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Czech PM Babis, country’s fourth-richest man, faces possible fraud charge

Czech police recommended charging Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the country’s fourth-richest man, with fraud after completing an investigation into whether he misused European Union funds.

The probe is one in a string of legal challenges that have dogged Babis since he won the 2017 elections with promises to root out corruption, keep immigrants out of the country and build more roads. He’s also been clashing with the EU’s executive arm after its auditors found him in conflict of interest over ties to his chemical, agriculture and media empire.

Babis told the CTK newswire on Monday that the fraud cause is a fabrication and that “nothing illegal has ever happened.” As he tries to halt a slide in popularity before general elections in October, he has repeatedly denounced the investigation at home and the conflict of interest audit as attacks staged by his rivals to force him out of politics.

Police completed a probe into the fraud case and handed a file containing more than 34,000 pages of evidence to the state prosecutors’ office, Ales Cimbala, a spokesman for the office, said in a statement on Monday. The prosecutor on the case, which focuses on whether one of Babis’s companies illegally obtained an EU subsidy of about $2.4 million more than a decade ago, will now study the file and decide whether to bring charges.

This is the second time police have recommended charging Babis after a first instance in 2019. The prosecutor then decided against taking Babis to court, but the decision was overturned and the case was returned to police for further investigation.

The country’s chief prosecutor Pavel Zeman, who reopened the probe into Babis two years ago, resigned this month and said he could no longer bear dealing with pressure from Justice Minister Marie Benesova, who has faced public protests and calls for her dismissal.

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The prosecutors office has an internal two-month deadline to decide on whether to press charges, although that can be extended. A spokesman for Babis’s ANO party didn’t answer the phone when contacted for comments.

Babis, whose wealth amounts to about $3.6 billion, according to Forbes, had for years enjoyed strong popularity among voters despite his legal tussles. But a stumbling approach to a resurgence in the coronavirus earlier this year, which led to the world’s second-highest death toll per capita, has since erased his wide lead in opinion polls.

The minority government may face an opposition-led no-confidence motion as soon as June, but President Milos Zeman, Babis’s ally, has pledged to keep him in power until the October election. Zeman has also promised to pardon Babis if prosecutors charge him.

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