The son of Czech opposition leader Andrej Babis told the court hearing his father’s fraud case that he never had the shares of the Stork’s Nest conference centre in his hands. The populist billionaire’s son has said he has no recollection of signing the legal documents showing he was owner of Stork’s Nest and that his signature was most likely forged.
Babis is standing trial on charges of fraudulently obtaining an EU-funded subsidy for small enterprises worth €2mn for Stork’s Nest, by putting the conference centre project under other names – including his son’s – and pretending it was not related to his huge agro-chemical conglomerate.
Andrej Babis had tried to prevent his son giving evidence, saying that his son has been suffering from schizophrenia and his evidence was therefore unreliable. Babis’ team had demanded his son underwent an assessment of his mental state, seen as a move to prevent Babis jr.’s testimony.
Andrej Babis jr. told reporters after entering the court building on Friday that his father “not only turned him into a ‘white horse’, but also into a madman”, referring to the alleged way his father used him as a front man for the conference centre and then impugned his mental state when he spoke out against it. “I have a right to testify”, Babis jr. told Czech Radio last week and added there is no reason to fear justice.
“My son has been totally abused by the post-November cartel”, Andrej Babis told the judge on Tuesday, referring to his longstanding charge that a “mafia” has run the country since the November 1989 collapse of communism. “Mafia journalists made their way to his house. They all were telling him how great he is, that he does not need to use medication”, Babis continued, presumably in reference to Seznam Zpravy and Neovlivni.cz journalists who tracked Babis jr. down in Switzerland in 2018 where he now lives.
In 2018 Babis jr. gave Seznam Zpravy journalists an interview in which he claimed he was kidnapped by Russian nationals working for Agrofert and held outside of Czechia to prevent him from giving testimony.
In 2019 Bellingcat published an open-source investigation documenting its investigation showing that Babis jr. visited Russian-occupied Crimea during his abduction.
Other members of Babis’ family, including his was second wife, their daughter and his brother-in-law exercised their right not to give testimony over their role in the Stork’s Nest ownership.
Babis’s legal team is comprised of top lawyers, including Eduard Bruna, who has successfully defended a number of politicians and defendants caught up in corruption charges or serious corporate crime. From 2010-2013 Bruna successfully defended “vor” and alleged boss of post-Soviet mafia network, Andranik Soghoyan who stood trial for organising murders but who managed to flee the country after an initial ruling freed him.
Andrej Babis is in for a busy autumn with his ANO party set to test the faltering popularity of the ruling coalition in municipal elections this weekend. His ANO as well as the far-right SPD opposition accuse the coalition of failing to handle the energy crisis.
27 of 81 Senate seats are also up for grabs including that of the Senate’s incumbent president Milos Vystrcil (ODS party) who will be challenged by ANO-backed Jana Nagyova, a former Agrofert manager who is also on trial in the Stork’s Nest case and who would obtain legal immunity if successful against Vystrcil on his home turf in the Jihlava district. ANO has launched a massive campaign to support Nagyova.
At the end of October Babis is also due to announce his decision to whether to run in the presidential election, where the deadline for committing to the race is early November. In a recent interview for LN, a newspaper he owns, Babis said the role of prime minister suits him better, indicating that he might shy away from the contest. Opinion polls show that he would lose the run-off to General Petr Pavel, so he may put forward one of his lieutenants, either former finance minister Alena Schillerova or former industry minister Karel Havlicek.
Recent polls for voting in a general election place ANO popularity at 30%, more than double the popularity of the rightwing ODS, the strongest of the five ruling coalition parties, and three of the coalition parties, the Christian Democrats, TOP 09 and Mayors, could have a hard time making it to the parliament on their own outside the electoral coaliltion. The SPD is growing in popularity, reaching nearly 15%, polls show, boosted by a big marketing campaign and unrest over the cost of living crisis.