Czech Parliament Strips Leading Candidate for PM of Immunity; Corruption Charges Ahead

Czech lawmakers stripped Andrej Babis - the leading candidate for prime minister in the upcoming October election - of his legal immunity Wednesday, allowing police to charge him with financial fraud.

256px-BabišAndrej Babis (Photo: Jiri Vítek, CC BY-SA 4.0)Babis has been accused of hiding ownership of a firm he owns in order to receive a US$ 2.29 million state subsidy intended to go toward helping small businesses in 2008, media reported.

Babis incessantly refutes these allegations, saying they are "designed to destroy [him] politically."

"You will not silence me, intimidate me, stop me, and you will not get rid of me," Babis told parliament.

Babis maintains the corruption charges against him are purely schematic, and aimed to discredit his campaign.

Miroslava Nemcova, member of the parliamentary committee that voted to remove Babis' immunity, said that there is no evidence the accusations against Babis were fabricated by the opposition.

"I have no impression whatsoever from what we have been shown that the investigation bodies are playing any improper games with us," said Nemcova.

Babis is a seasoned businessman who previously worked as the Czech Republic's finance minister between 2014 and 2017. He was accused of tax evasion and opinion manipulation in a newspaper he owned and was consequently dismissed as finance minister by standing prime minister Bohuslar Sobotka. Babis is the second richest man in the Czech Republic.

Babis is the founder of the country's very popular centrist and populist ANO party. Its platform ironically rests on anti-corruption rhetoric, as graft scandals and corruption schemes orchestrated by his competitors - the Civil Democrats and the Social Democrats - are not uncommon.

Babis is still eligible to run for prime minister, despite losing his immunity. Assuming Babis wins the election, he will regain his immunity and the police will have to ask the Czech Parliamentary Committee once again to remove his immunity in order to continue the investigation.

Paval Saradin, political science professor at Masaryk University in Brno said the scandal may actually help Babis' chance to win. By painting the investigation as a smear campaign led by his opposition, Babis might emerge victorious.