World / Politics

Some 100,000 join march to demand Czech billionaire prime minister's resignation

AFP-JIJI

Around 100,000 Czechs filled Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis in the biggest demonstration the country has seen in decades.

The 64-year-old billionaire was charged last year in connection with a €2 million ($2.25 million) EU subsidy scam, while an audit by the European Commission ruled that he has a conflict of interest as a politician and entrepreneur.

“Andrej Babis gives us a new reason to protest every week,” Benjamin Roll of the Million Moments for Democracy NGO, one of the organizers, told the protesters. “We’ve had enough.”

While an AFP correspondent estimated the crowd at 100,000, organizers put the figure at 120,000.

Tuesday’s protest was the largest in a series that began in late April against Babis and his justice minister, Marie Benesova, who is suspected of putting the brakes on legal moves against the prime minister.

The commission suspects that the Slovak-born Babis, who is the Czech Republic’s second-wealthiest person, still rakes in profits from the company he founded.

Brussels has also halted subsidies to the food, chemicals and media Agrofert holding pending the audit verdict.

Babis transferred Agrofert to a fund in 2017, months before becoming prime minister, to avoid a conflict of interest.

But a public Slovak registry still lists him and his wife as the final benefactors of Agrofert’s units in Slovakia.

Brussels is asking the Czech Republic to reimburse 17.4 million euros worth of subsidies, according to a draft text to be finalised in the coming months.

Last Friday, Babis vehemently denied any conflict of interest.

“This audit is an attack on the Czech Republic. European bureaucrats have disdain for Czech laws,” he told lawmakers on Tuesday.