Czech lawmakers have voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of populist Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in a move that leaves him exposed to prosecution over accusations he unlawfully took advantage of European funds. The vote, which was passed by 111 deputies in favour versus 69 against, comes three days after his minority government was forced to resign after it lost a vote of confidence in parliament.
Mr. Babiš, 63, a billionaire and second richest man in the Czech Republic according to Forbes magazine, stands accused of fraud concerning the construction of a hotel complex and conference center called the “Stork’s Nest”, located some 60 km south of Prague.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has alleged that Babiš intentionally separated the “Stork’s Nest” from rest of the Agrofert conglomerate that he controls in order to benefit from two million euros of European funds intended in principle for small and medium-sized companies.
Mr. Babiš, who only became prime minister in December after his ANO party won enough seats to form a minority government, rejects the accusation.
“We live in a country where you can order a prosecution of somebody and you can probably get somebody in jail,” said Babiš, according to whom the case contains a “large number of absurdities and nonsense.”
The lower house also lifted the immunity of ANO vice-president Jaroslav Faltynek, who has also been charged in the same case.
Both men had had their immunity lifted by parliament last August when they were deputies in the previous legislature but it was reinstated once they were re-election to Parliament.
Babiš’ ANO movement won 78 seats in the 200-seat lower house, far ahead of the other eight formations present in the highly fragmented chamber. However, given the fraud charges hanging over Babiš’s head, no party was willing to go into government with him, forcing him to attempt form a minority government instead.
All eight other parties refused to give their confidence to this government in a vote on Tuesday, forcing the cabinet to resign the following day. The executive will remain in place as an acting government until President Miloš Zeman appoints a new cabinet or calls for fresh elections.
Zeman had said previously that should ANO lose the confidence vote, as was widely expected, he would grant Babiš another chance to form a government. However Zeman may not get a chance to follow through on his promise. The president also finds himself clinging onto his position following last week’s presidential vote in which his centrist opponent fared better than predicted, leaving it tight in the polls between the two for a run-off next week.