| PRAGUE, April 28
PRAGUE, April 28 Czech Finance Minister Andrej
Babis fought back against the country's prime minister on Friday
for raising questions over his past business, a row threatening
the government six months before elections.
Babis, a billionaire, has come under fire from Prime
Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and opponents questioning his Agrofert
conglomerate and tax savings through bond issues worth hundreds
of millions of crowns.
Sobotka's criticism of Babis is seen in Prague as part of an
increasing campaign fight before parliamentary elections in
October, in which polls predict a sound victory for Babis's ANO
Sobotka, head of the Social Democratic Party, may try to
sack Babis, a dismissal that could lead to a government
collapse, political analysts said.
The prime minister said he would decide further steps next
week, after he studies a written explanation Babis submitted to
lawmakers on Friday in response to questions parliamentarians
Babis, after providing the requested response, said he had
already explained everything.
"I think the prime minister hurts the government," he told
reporters. "Changing a finance minister half a year before
elections ... I think that endangers the government's
functioning, the budget and it actually affects everybody in our
Sobotka and Babis took power together in 2014 after a
decade-long period in which a string of governments collapsed
early. They have governed relatively smoothly together while the
economy has grown, helping the government balance the budget for
the first time in two decades.
But they have clashed over taxes, spending and police reform
and now face a tough election fight.
Babis, who has fought off accusations of conflicts of
interest since entering politics in 2011, dismissed the doubts
about his prior business.
"To demand information from me, after the prime minister has
sat with me in the government for three-and-a-half years,
information on (my business in) 1995, that's ridiculous," he
He shifted his Agrofert group, spanning chemicals and
agriculture to food and newspapers, to a trust fund this year in
response to a law, supported by the Sobotka's Social Democrats,
banning future ministers from owning media or stakes in
companies that get subsidies or state contracts.
"It seems that Social Democrats are heading for a
disgraceful election defeat. Therefore Sobotka, or his advisers,
may think that things can't get any worse, and a strong action
could only help," Petr Honzejk, a commentator for daily
Hospodarske Noviny, wrote on Friday.
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)