Czech politicians have stripped former Prime Minister Andrej Babis of immunity as a parliament member as the billionaire faces charges over European Union subsidy fraud involving his farm outside Prague.
A total of 111 of 176 legislators present in the 200-seat lower house voted on Thursday in favour of the move which was set to enable the prosecution of Babis, a populist who led the Czech government from 2017 to 2021.
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Police suspect Babis of having temporarily transferred the Stork Nest farm near Prague out of his sprawling Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding in 2007 to make it eligible for an EU subsidy for small companies worth about two million euros ($2.2m).
The 67-year-old Babis, who is the fifth-wealthiest Czech according to Forbes magazine, has denied any wrongdoing.
“Even though the charges are purpose built, I’m not opposing the move when it comes to facts,” Babis, the chairman of the centrist ANO movement, said before the parliament meeting.
“I can declare with clear conscience that I have never done anything unlawful,” the food, chemicals and media tycoon said, calling the case “absurd”.
Last May, prosecutors said they were contemplating charges against Babis after police had urged them to indict him over the alleged EU subsidy fraud.
Police already called for the then-prime minister to be indicted in 2019, but a prosecutor found the allegations to be unfounded and cleared Babis.
The country’s top prosecutor then found flaws in the decision and reopened the case concerning Babis and his aide Jana Mayerova later that year.
Babis was removed from government in a general election last October, won by a centre-right coalition of five parties and led by current Prime Minister Petr Fiala.