Milos Zeman Czech president names new finance chief after weeks of crisis

Czech President Milos Zeman on Wednesday replaced the country's finance minister after weeks of political turmoil that threatend to topple the country's government, five months ahead of legislative elections.

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New Czech Minister of Finance, Ivan Pilny from the ANO party, leaves after having been appointed by President Milos Zeman (R) on May 24, 2017 at the Hradcany Castle in Prague play

New Czech Minister of Finance, Ivan Pilny from the ANO party, leaves after having been appointed by President Milos Zeman (R) on May 24, 2017 at the Hradcany Castle in Prague

(AFP)
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Czech President Milos Zeman on Wednesday replaced the country's finance minister after weeks of political turmoil that threatend to topple the country's government, five months ahead of legislative elections.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka had demanded the sacking of Andrej Babis, the billionaire founder of the sprawling Agrofert conglomerate, accusing him of tax evasion and multiple conflicts of interest.

Zeman replaced him with Ivan Pilny, an ally of Babis in his centrist ANO movement, but also made a point of praising the outgoing minister.

"I would like to express my high esteem and sincere thanks to Andrej Babis, who succeeded in achieving a significant budget surplus, improving tax collection and fighting tax evasion," Zeman said.

"This may be why he has to face the jealousy of those who have had less success," he said.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing and insisted that Sobotka's efforts to sack him were part of the "political battle" ahead of the October 20-21 elections.

Despite leaving the cabinet, Babis is still largely expected to emerge victorious in the contest against Sobotka's Social Democrats (CSSD) and the small centrist Christian Democrats, which comprise the current coalition government.

Rightwing parties, for their part, criticised the appointment of a new finance chief as merely a "cosmetic change", noting that Pilny had been proposed by Babis himself.

"Nothing will change, Andrej Babis will continue to run the finance ministry, from Agrofert," said Miroslav Kalousek, head of the TOP 09 opposition party.

"Only the elections will be able to bring any real change."

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