PRAGUE Feb 3 Czech billionaire Finance Minister
Andrej Babis said on Friday he had transferred his assets into
two trust funds to comply with a new conflict-of-interest law
that he has criticised for being aimed at him.
Worth $2.7 billion, Babis is listed number two on the Forbes
list of the richest Czechs and has been likened by local media
to U.S. President Donald Trump or former Italian prime minister
Babis owns more than 250 companies spanning food, chemicals
and media. He also founded the ANO party now leading in polls
before an October election, putting the businessman in a strong
position to become the country's next prime minister.
The law, which cleared a final parliamentary vote in
January, bans ownership of media for ministers and prevents
companies in which ministers hold more then 25 percent from
winning public contracts and discretionary subsidies.
"I went to a notary this week and I founded two trust funds
and this morning I signed it," Babis told public Czech
Television. "So I got rid of (my company) shares. I am not a
shareholder. I complied with the law."
On the advice of his lawyers, he said, he put 90 percent of
his Agrofert holding group and 100 percent of Synbiol, which
controls his Hartenberg investment vehicle, into one of the
funds. The other Agrofert shares would go into a second fund.
As his family and associates will be involved in the trust
funds, Babis' political opponents viewed the procedure as rather
a formality, saying he would maintain ultimate control over
Agrofert. Babis dismissed that suggestion.
His holdings include companies that receive development
subsidies and public orders, along with two national newspapers
and a radio station.
Babis repeated his accusation on Friday that the
conflict-of-interest law was meant to drive him out of politics
and that it was unconstitutional.
President Milos Zeman has supported Babis and he said
earlier this week that he would challenge the new law at the
Constitutional Court. Zeman vetoed the bill but lawmakers
including from other government parties later overrode him.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Mark Heinrich)