Czechia – Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was acquitted on Monday, 9 January, by a Prague court in the “Stork’s Nest” case. The news could not have come at a better time for Babiš, with the first round of the presidential election due to take place on 13–14 January. The polls currently put the former PM at between 26% and 29% of voting intentions, neck and neck with General Petr Pavel, a former chairman of the NATO Military Committee.
The Stork’s Nest (Farma Čapí hnízdo) is a recreational and conference facility located in Central Bohemia. The Stork’s Nest company, which until 2007 belonged to Andrej Babiš’s Agrofert Group, received an EU grant of 50 million koruna (€2 million) in 2008. The grant was intended only for small and medium-sized enterprises, which the Stork’s Nest had become only by being separated from its parent company. There were, therefore, suspicions that Agrofert had transferred ownership of the Stork’s Nest to Babiš’s wife and children only to be able to benefit from that EU farm subsidy.
An investigative report by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) concluded in December 2017 that there had been “intentional and premeditated” fraud. Andrej Babiš had his parliamentary immunity lifted and was charged with wilful fraud affecting the EU’s financial interests. Subsequently, the European Commission suspended EU subsidies for the Agrofert group and demanded the reimbursement of 17.4 million euros of EU funds.
Since then, there have been many twists and turns to the case, including a hearing before Czechia’s Chamber of Deputies between 2016 and 2018, a police investigation, and even an alleged kidnapping of Andrej Babiš’s son, Andrej Babiš Jr. The latter now lives in Switzerland and claims he was detained against his will in Crimea to prevent him from testifying.
Babiš’s acquittal puts an end to some of his legal troubles. However, the former Czech PM faces charges in other cases whose timing has not always suited his political agenda. A recent poll conducted from 5 to 8 January, before this acquittal, puts Andrej Babiš at 28.6% of the vote for the first round of the presidential election on 13–14 January, giving him a short lead over General Petr Pavel (27.8%) and the economist Danuše Nerudová (24.6%), in whose favour the trade unionist Josef Středula (2.2%) has just withdrawn. Danuše Nerudová said after the news of the acquittal that Andrej Babiš wanted to be elected president to “buy five years so that he would not be in prison”, but the country’s former Prime Minister did not bother to respond.