Czech PM faces calls to step down after fraud scandal allegations

Andrej Babis denies authorising kidnapping of his son Junior to prevent him from being questioned in a fraud probe.

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    Babis was investigated by local and EU authorities last year of hiding ownership of a farm and conference centre [Michele Tantussi/Reuters]
    Babis was investigated by local and EU authorities last year of hiding ownership of a farm and conference centre [Michele Tantussi/Reuters]

    Prague, Czech Republic - Opposition parties in the Czech Republic say Prime Minister Andrej Babis should step down amid reported allegations of ordering associates to kidnap his son last year in a bid to obstruct a fraud investigation.

    The prime minister was probed by Czech and European Union authorities in 2017 over hiding ownership of a farm and conference centre - Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) - so that it would qualify for a two-million-euro subsidy ($2.25m) meant for small businesses.

    In January, the EU's anti-fraud office said it had found "irregularities" in payments related to the subsidy. 

    On Monday, a report by local news outlet Seznam quoted Andrej Babis Jr. - the prime minister's 35-year-old son who had been under investigation along with his father for subsidy fraud - as saying that he was forced by the husband of his doctor-turned-ruling-party politician into hiding last year to prevent him from testifying in the case.

    In comments captured in video, Babis Jr said that he was told to choose from "taking an extended holiday" in the Russia-annexed Crimea or be admitted to a mental facility after unknowingly signing documents critical to the decade-old case.

    The report on Monday sent shockwaves in the Czech parliament, with leaders from a group of six opposition parties agreeing on Tuesday to file a motion to hold a vote of no-confidence that could threaten to upend Babis's already-vulnerable coalition government.

    In a joint statement, the opposition also called on the prime minister to resign from his post until an impartial investigation could be carried out. 

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    Following last year's elections, Babis struggled to form a government as other parties refused to enter a coalition with him due to the scandal. He has staunchly denied all wrongdoing and has repeatedly said that it was being used as a political tool by his opponents to see him thwarted.

    The prime minister rejected the allegations in Monday's report, saying that the journalists invaded his son's home in Switzerland and used a hidden camera to interview Babis Jr, who he said has a serious mental disorder. 

    "The facts are clear. My son is mentally ill. He takes medication, he has to be supervised, and he lives with his mother in Switzerland," the prime minister said in a Facebook post.

    "My son was not kidnapped, he left the Czech Republic voluntarily. The police investigated this matter and concluded that kidnapping had never happened."

    Babis Jr's doctor, Dita Protopopova, who was recently elected to a district level posting in the capital, Prague, as a member of the ruling party, resigned on Tuesday as a result of the investigation. Police told local media that they would look into the findings of the video and question the reporters. 

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    Representing 92 seats in the Czech Republic's Chamber of Deputies, the opposition would require nine votes from the current government coalition in order for a vote of no-confidence to succeed.

    Both the Social Democrats and the Communists, which comprise the coalition along with Babis's Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) Party, said they would need to hear more from the prime minister's party directly before deciding on a course of action.

    "We will have to deal with ANO. We have a whole range of questions," Social Democrat leader and Interior Minister Jiri Hamacek told reporters on Tuesday in relation to the case, adding that he could no longer predict the future of the government.

    The Czech communist party, which played the deciding vote in establishing Mr Babis's government earlier this year, said it would support an extraordinary session in parliament to look further into the accusation.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News