PRAGUE Jan 11 The Czech lower house on
Wednesday overturned the last obstacle to a law putting limits
on ministers' business activities, a rule that will force
Finance Minister Andrej Babis to give up direct control of his
chemicals and media conglomerate.
The lower house voted overwhelmingly 129-49 to overrule a
veto by President Milos Zeman and the approved amendment to
conflict of interest legislation will enter force within weeks.
Babis, billionaire owner of more than 250 companies, entered
parliament and government with his ANO movement in 2013 and is
the favourite to become prime minister after this October's
election, as many Czechs trust his business approach and pledges
to weed out graft in the political establishment.
As number two on Forbes list of richest Czechs, worth $2.7
billion, Babis has been likened by media to incoming U.S.
President Donald Trump or the former Italian Prime Minister
The new law will ban ownership of media for ministers, and
also prevent firms in which ministers hold more then 25 percent
from winning public contracts and discretionary subsidies.
Babis's Agrofert group and other firms have received
investment aid and have business interactions with the public
Babis said he never gained any unfair advantage from his
political engagement. He said ANO, as well as Zeman, was likely
to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court but he said he
would comply with the law, without giving any details how.
"I will fight for my rights. It is not normal that
traditional parties, rotten with corruption, should close the
door to people who have achieved something and want to help our
country," he told reporters after the vote.
"This law is meant to make me leave politics. I will not
give the authors of this dirty trick the pleasure."
The Slovak-born Babis's firms are the country's largest
private employer with more than 30,000 workers in sectors
ranging from farming to chemicals, forestry and healthcare.
He may transfer his assets, which include two daily
newspapers and the most popular private radio station, to a
trust fund to comply with the law, without selling the business.
This echoes Italy which, under prime minister and media
owner Berlusconi, passed a law in 2004 that restricted
politicians from taking an active role in running companies.
ANO leads most opinion polls with a double-digit margin over
Prime Mister Bohuslav Sobotka's Social Democrats.
As minister, Babis has introduced a measures to improve tax
collection. He has spoken in favour of lower taxes, has been
sceptical on adoption of the euro, and criticised Germany's
refugee policy, calling for tighter border control.
Babis's biggest trouble in office came last year after
revelations the European anti-fraud body OLAF as well as Czech
police have been looking into the legality of about 2 million
euro in 2008 subsidies for his hotel and conference centre
outside Prague. There has been no conclusion to the
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)