June 1, 2017 / 8:54 AM / a year ago

Billionaire Czech politician leading polls rules out joining euro

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic should not adopt the euro because it would “bring nothing good,” former finance minister Andrej Babis, the front-runner for October’s general election, said in an interview published on Thursday.

Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis addresses a parliamentary session in Prague, Czech Republic, May 10, 2017. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Babis, the favorite to become the country’s next prime minister, was quoted as saying that joining the euro currency zone would burden the country with foreign debts and strip it of the crown, an important tool in times of economic crisis.

“The euro zone was an economic project (that) became political. And I don’t want to guarantee Greek debts, Italian banks. I don’t want to be part of this system because it will bring us nothing good,” he told the CTK news agency.

The Slovak-born Babis, a billionaire former businessman, and his centrist ANO party have attracted voters with a business-style approach to government. The latest opinion poll put the party at 33 percent support, far ahead of its main rival, the Social Democrats, at 14 percent [nL8N1IS1GN]

Agrofert, the company he built before going into politics, is the country’s biggest private employer spanning the food, agriculture, chemicals and media sectors. He moved ownership of the company to a trust fund this year to comply with conflict-of-interest laws.

Babis was finance minister in the three-party center-left government but was dismissed this month in a spat centered on allegations that he had dodged taxes and interfered at a newspaper he owns.

He has denied wrongdoing and only accepted his dismissal after being able to pick his successor. [nL8N1IQ5JV]

He has called the dispute a political ploy by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, head of the Social Democrats who trail ANO by double digits in polls.

The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, committing to one day switching crowns for the euro.

Sobotka told a Reuters summit on May 25 the next government should lead talks with unions and employers over conditions for euro adoption and also set an entry date, although that would be beyond the next parliamentary term ending in 2021.[nL8N1IR2EL]

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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