In Czech Republic Billionaire finance minister under fire

Andrej Babis, the second wealthiest Czech, leads the centrist ANO (Yes) movement which opinion polls show headed for victory in legislative elections later this year.

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Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis gives a speech during an extraordinary session of parliament on Wednesday. He is at the centre of a political crisis over leaked conversations and his business dealings play

Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis gives a speech during an extraordinary session of parliament on Wednesday. He is at the centre of a political crisis over leaked conversations and his business dealings

(AFP)
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The Czech Republic's finance minister found himself under heavy fire in parliament Wednesday over his business dealings and leaked conversations that led the prime minister to try to sack him last week.

Andrej Babis, the second wealthiest Czech, leads the centrist ANO (Yes) movement which opinion polls show headed for victory in legislative elections later this year.

He is at the centre of a week-long political crisis sparked by doubts over his business dealings, which the tycoon insists are all legal.

Parliament wants him to explain how he raised the money to buy his sprawling Agrofert farming, chemicals and media conglomerate.

"I'd like to ask the Czech public: stop believing that when someone's rich, he's a safer choice," Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek of the leftist CSSD party, which governs in coalition with the smaller ANO and the Christian Democrats, told parliament.

"When people like you (Babis) enter politics, it's a huge danger," Zaoralek said, during the special parliamentary sitting called to address Babis's alleged wrongdoing.

Babis shot back calling the debate "a live execution" and "another mega-campaign against me."

A Slovak-born self-made magnate, Babis has become the EU state's most popular politician by selling himself and the party he forged 2012 as being tough on corruption, something voters perceive as pervasive in often murky Czech politics.

Questions have also been raised about Babis's purchase of tax-free bonds issued by Agrofert, with critics insisting that as a finance minister fighting tax evasion, he should not benefit from tax loopholes.

Leaked convos

Babis is also under fire over leaked conversations revealing that he pressured a journalist from his media group to attack political rivals.

The 62-year-old Babis has refused to comment on the leaks.

Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told AFP the recordings could dent his popularity.

"The recordings... prove he's a liar," said Mlejnek, recalling that Babis vowed in 2013 to "never meddle in editorial matters."

So far Babis's ANO movement has led opinion polls with support reaching as high as 30 percent, twice as much as Sobotka's CSSD.

Mlejnek said the current crisis was also partly triggered by the CSSD as an early campaign move ahead of the October 20-21 elections.

"They (CSSD) didn't want to end up in opposition with ANO winning the election, so they decided to attack Babis hard, even at the cost of destroying the (coalition's) cabinet," he said.

The latest crisis in often turbulent Czech politics began on May 2 when CSSD head and Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tendered his entire government's resignation in a bid to oust Babis.

But days later Sobotka withdrew the resignation and demanded President Milos Zeman to just axe Babis instead, a move the veteran leftist has so far refused.

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