The hidden affairs of Andrej Babiš: Czech prime minister named in the Pandora Papers
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Shopping in the Czech Republic is a game of Russian Roulette; whether it’s milk or chicken, throwing the wrong product into your shopping cart could mean supporting a populist and corrupt politician. Even grabbing a newspaper might mean handing your money to the man who has been branded the “Czech Donald Trump” - the prime minister Andrej Babiš, a highly controversial public figure who recently made an appearance in the leaked Pandora Papers.
On the eighth and ninth of October 2021, the Czech Republic held elections for parliament. By a slight margin, Babiš’s ANO (“Yes”) party lost to the coalition SPOLU (“together”); the SPOLU coalition has been one of a few parties in this election that promised not to work with Andrej Babiš in the event of their success. It seems likely that the contentious prime minister will be deposed from power and, given the Czech populace’s affinity for defenestration (throwing unpopular government officials out of windows), his future appears quite bleak.
Andrej Babiš amassed his fortune as a fertilizer trader with his Agrofert business. Currently, he is the second richest person in the Czech republic, with a net worth of around 3.4 million dollars. Some 20 years after founding his conglomerate, he made his way into politics as a member of Parliament. In 2017, he was voted in as the Prime Minister, leading his ANO party with anti-immigration rhetoric and an anti-EU stance. One major criticism has been the fact that Agrofert depends heavily on EU subsidies, which is a clear conflict of interest with his role in politics. One of the more well-known scandals involved a resort called Capi Hnizdo (Stork’s Nest). This farm, originally owned by Babis, was sold to an anonymous buyer, who then asked for a 50 million czk (1.7 million pounds) subsidy meant for small businesses. Five years later, the farm was nestled safely under Babiš’s wing again, along with the subsidy money.
Recently, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained data consisting of almost 12 million documents detailing the hidden practices of some of the world’s richest and most powerful —the Pandora Papers. The Czech Prime minister was mentioned in relation to using tax havens which, while legal, could hardly be described as ethical, and are often used to hide funds acquired via criminal means.
Babiš had used a shell company in the British Virgin Isles to buy two multi-million French villas. His failure to declare this purchase, worth around 360 million czech crowns (12m pounds), was especially unfortunate considering it occurred only a few days before the parliamentary elections of the Czech Republic. Babiš responded to the allegations by stating that they merely showed him as having “bought some property in 2009”, as well as arguing that they were dated from before he entered politics.
Some hold the opinion that the personal life of a politician should not be under such intense scrutiny. However, when combined with the other lies and disappointments that have defined his career, including a covid death rate of 174 people per million, the Pandora Papers could be another nail in the coffin of Andrej Babiš’s political career.