The government will decide whether to ask Agrofert to return 4.5 billion

Milan Malíček,

In the coming weeks, the government will decide on the next course of action in the audit concerning the conflict of interest of former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO). One option is for the state to seek the return of all subsidies paid to Agrofert during the period when Babiš was in government and the conflict of interest law was in force, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Vojtěch Bílý said. According to the ministry, the total subsidy amount was roughly CZK 4.5 billion.

According to Bílý, the State Agricultural Intervention Fund (SZIF) has developed several options for further action. “One of the options works with the possibility of recovering all the subsidies provided to Agrofert for the mentioned period when the total volume of funds provided amounted to roughly CZK 4.5 billion,” the spokesman said.

On Sunday, Agriculture Minister Zdeněk Nekula (KDU-ČSL) spoke about the same amount which the state could recover from Agrofert. He also said that he expects a big legal battle and that the amount of money to be returned depends on the angle of the legal assessment. “My private estimate is that after that huge legal battle, the volume will be somewhere in the middle,” he added.

Babiš put his shares into a trust in 2017 because of the conflict of interest law, but according to the state’s Register of Beneficial Owners, he is the real owner of Agrofert. According to an audit by the European Commission (EC), Babiš continues to control Agrofert, and the EC has suspended subsidy payments to Agrofert companies because of this.

The European Commission recently fined the Czech Republic more than CZK 82 million for errors in agricultural subsidies. This includes a sanction for Babiš’s conflict of interest. The Czech Republic is to pay roughly CZK 1.1 million for this particular misconduct. The Czech Republic may defend itself against this decision before the EU Court of Justice. The government should decide on any action.

Nekula did not expect any government member to want the state to sue over the EC decision. The audit into Babiš’s conflict of interest occurred in the Czech Republic in early 2019. The former prime minister has long denied wrongdoing.