Czech finance minister avoids conflicts of interest under protest

Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis said on Sunday he would transfer his assets a trust fund to comply with new conflict-of- interest legislation, but would also challenge the rules with the European Commission.

Babis, the billionaire owner of more than 250 companies, entered parliament and government with his ANO movement in 2013 and is favoured to become prime minister after this October’s election. Many Czechs trust his pledges to weed out graft in the political establishment.

As number two on Forbes list of richest Czechs, worth €2.5 billion, Babis has been likened by media to new US President Donald Trump or the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The new law, which cleared a final parliamentary vote earlier this month, will ban ownership of media for ministers and prevent companies in which ministers hold more then 25 percent from winning public contracts and discretionary subsidies.

Babis’s holdings include food and chemical companies, some of which receive development subsidies and public orders, but also two national newspapers and a radio station.

“I will get rid of everything including media, also my internet media,” Babis said in a live debate on TV Prima channel on Sunday.

“Unlike President Trump, I will not appoint family members to the trust fund,” he said, adding that a family member would have an oversight role in the structure. “I will have no influence over the firm.”

Trump said earlier this month he would maintain ownership of his businesses but hand off control to his two older sons while president.

Babis has said the new legislation, approved by votes from the opposition as well as Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s centre-left Social Democrats, was an attempt to drive him out of politics. He has repeatedly denied any abuse of his position in favour of his business.

Babis said on Sunday one of his companies would file a complaint with the European Commission because he believed the legislation violated European law.

Martin Plisek, a centre-right opposition TOP 09 party deputy who co-authored the law, said Babis’s transfer of assets to a trust fund was not a clear severing of business links.

“I see at is circumventing the law,” he said in the television debate.

He said the Czech law was similar to an Austrian one, and other European Union countries also regulate the business of ministers.

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