International

Thousands rally against billionaire Czech PM

Thousands protested in Prague on Thursday against embattled Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis after his son said he was forcibly sent abroad to thwart a fraud inquiry into his father.

Babis, a former Communist, is facing criminal charges over alleged EU subsidy fraud
Babis, a former Communist, is facing criminal charges over alleged EU subsidy fraud (AFP)

Thousands protested in Prague on Thursday against embattled Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis after his son said he was forcibly sent abroad to thwart a fraud inquiry into his father.

Babis, a former Communist, is facing criminal charges over alleged EU subsidy fraud as well as allegations that he collaborated with the secret police in the 1980s when former Czechoslovakia was under Moscow's control.

His son from his first marriage has told Czech media he was sent abroad against his wishes to hinder the fraud probe, prompting opposition parties to unite this week in seeking a no-confidence motion against Babis's cabinet.

"I think it's unacceptable to have a prime minister who is facing criminal charges, who is a former Communist police agent, a former Communist Party member," Eva Pospichalova, a retired doctor, told AFP at the rally.

Protesters against billionaire Babis, whom Forbes pegs as the second wealthiest Czech citizen, waved banners calling on him to resign.

"I have a growing feeling that we're returning to the Communist order -- people are afraid and besides, they are increasingly indifferent," added Pospichalova.

Babis denies any wrongdoing, saying the claims are part of "a campaign aimed at destroying me and forcing me out of politics." He also said his son, who is 35, suffers from schizophrenia, which Andrej Babis Jr. has dismissed as "a lie".

Babis has come under fire after his son claimed that his father's aides had arranged for him to be forcibly taken to Crimea, occupied by Russia.

Babis Jr said they had done so to prevent police from questioning him in connection with allegations that his father had abused EU subsidies to build the luxury Stork Nest resort near Prague in 2007-08.

Babis leads a minority cabinet of his ANO movement and the leftwing Social Democrats, ruling with the tacit support of the Communists.

The opposition would need 101 votes in the 200-member parliament to topple Babis, something that analysts say they are unlikely to achieve.

The CSSD and KSCM leaders said that they would first speak with Babis before making a final decision on a confidence vote while ANO lawmakers said Thursday Babis had their full support.

The Median independent polling agency said that 56 percent of Czechs want Babis to step down, according to a survey conducted on November 13-14 on a sample of 1,015 Czechs.