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Ex-Czech PM Andrej Babis to run for president

November 25, 2022

Former Prime Minister Andrej Babis, one of the wealthiest people in the Czech Republic, is currently on trial and is accused of fraud. Should he become president, he would be protected from prosecution.

Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis
Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is accused of aiding and abetting EU subsidy fraudImage: Katerina Sulova/CTK/dpa/picture alliance

With just months to go before the Czech Republic's presidential election, former Prime Minister Andrej Babis officially announced his candidacy on Friday.

The 68-year-old billionaire is currently on trial over fraud accusations, with critics warning he could use his time as president to delay proceedings.

What did Babis say?

After months of speculation, the former prime minister announced his bid for the Czech Republic's highest office.

"I will run for the post of president of the Czech Republic," Babis wrote in a post on Facebook.

Czechs head to the polls on January 13 and January 14 in the first round of the presidential vote. A runoff election is expected to take place two weeks later.

"Surveys don't give me much of a chance, but I'm a fighter," Babis told TV station Nova.

His main rival in the presidential race is ex-general and former NATO Military Committee chairman, Petr Pavel.

An opinion poll conducted last month by Stern/Mark showed Pavel in first place with 23%, followed by Babis with 17%.

Babis served as prime minister from 2017 to 2021. He is the founder of the anti-establishment ANO party, which narrowly lost last year's general election. A three-party center-right coalition emerged as the winner, led by current Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

Czech Republic: no glass without gas

Why is his candidacy controversial?

In the Czech Republic, the president has largely representative tasks but is considered an important opinion leader.

Under Czech law, a sitting president cannot be prosecuted while serving their five-year term.

"In democratic countries, a politician resigns when he is accused, but Andrej Babis longs for immunity in the castle," Prime Minister Fiala said on Twitter, referencing the seat of the Czech government at Prague Castle.

Prosecutors say Babis played a role in illegally obtaining €2 million ($2.02 million) in subsidies from the European Union in 2008 for a wellness resort called Stork's Nest. The resort, located near Prague, is owned by members of Babis' family.

Babis, one of the five wealthiest people in the Czech Republic, is accused of concealing ownership so it would qualify for EU subsidies meant only for small businesses. He was charged earlier this year, after years of investigation.

Current Czech President Milos Zeman will finish his second term in office in March. He cannot run again for the post.

rs/ar (dpa, AFP)