September 27, 2017 / 9:02 AM / a year ago

Czech election favourite Babis says CEZ split would cost consumers

PRAGUE, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The Czech election frontrunner, billionaire businessman Andrej Babis, said on Wednesday that splitting up state-owned utility CEZ would cost customers and leave the government without a “lucrative” part of the energy business.

Splitting CEZ into parts is one of three options the government is debating as a financing model for nuclear power expansion, along with special purpose companies owned by either CEZ or the government.

Babis, whose party holds a double-digit poll lead ahead of next month’s election, made his comments on Twitter, after CEZ Chief Executive Daniel Benes was quoted by Pravo newspaper on Tuesday as saying a split would make nuclear power expansion easier.

Babis has said in the past that CEZ, which is 70 percent government owned, should be able to finance the construction of nuclear plants itself. On Wednesday, he said the split option would leave the state with only production assets, losing sales and distribution units.

“We will all pay for this, in electricity prices,” Babis said on Twitter. The state would “lose the lucrative part of CEZ”, he said.

Babis’s oft-repeated pledge is to “manage the state like a company”, and he has been compared to other businessmen-turned-politicians, such as U.S. President Donald Trump and former Italian prime minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.

Sources told Reuters last week that government officials had asked CEZ to look closely into the possibility of spinning off the group’s power distribution and renewable assets, with the government taking full control of its nuclear and coal plants.

Babis, whose ANO party is a junior member in Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s Social Democrat-led government, was finance minister until May. His party is expected to gain the most votes in the Oct. 20-21 election, making him the frontrunner to become prime minister. (Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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