Episode 4: Exposing a Former Czech PM’s Offshore Finances
Pavla Holcová was greeted with an avalanche of threats when she woke up one morning. Her country’s former prime minister had publicly accused her of being a paid agent to undermine his re-election campaign.
In this episode of Dirty Deeds…
In this episode, Nick Wallis talks with Pavla and fellow OCCRP editor Pete Jones about how an investigation exposing ex-Czech PM Andrej Babiš’ undeclared overseas property deals led to a very public attack by the politician and media mogul. Pavla recounts her encounters with Babiš — and what kept her going in the face of horrific abuse from his supporters.
Read the investigation:
Host Nick Wallis talks to…
Pavla Holcová - @pafak
Pavla is an investigative journalist and OCCRP’s regional editor for Central Europe. She led the investigation into Babiš’ secret property deals. Babiš later publicly blamed Pavla for his 2021 parliamentary election loss in the Czech Republic.
Pete Jones - @PSJones01
Pete is OCCRP’s deputy editor-in-chief for investigations and worked as an editor on the story investigating Babiš.
Will is a British freelance journalist and commentator based in Prague, covering politics and current affairs in Central and Eastern Europe.
- [0:00] Introduction
- [2:23] Pavla Holcová and Pete Jones explain how their investigation into Andrej Babiš began
- [6:45] Pavla describes a public confrontation with Babiš
- [8:03] Pavla describes how Babiš targeted her on social media and what consequences she suffered
- [15:18] What kept Pavla going despite abuse from Babiš and his supporters
- [18:03] Pete explains what makes OCCRP distinct as a news organization
- [23:51] How OCCRP journalists prepare for and respond to threats
- [26:08] The consequence of the article for Babiš
- [27:11] Will Nattrass on Babiš, corruption and the direction of Czech politics
Check out other episodes on the Dirty Deeds main page.
Follow The Money — and Our Investigations: Get our weekly newsletter.
Support investigative journalism in the public interest. Donate to OCCRP.
Nick Wallis: In this episode, the Czech billionaire politician who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and the mysterious cash behind his luxury properties in the south of France.
Pete Jones: He injected €15 million into this offshore company that he’d set up and that he owned, and then he started to loan that money on to other companies that he owned.
Will Nattrass: He sees some journalists as his enemies, quite unequivocally, and there are lots of people who claim that if he’s prime minister or if he’s president, then that’s a serious problem for media freedom.
Nick Wallis: Also this episode, the dangers of being an investigative reporter.
Pavla Holcová: “We were receiving like hundreds of messages daily accusing us of influencing elections and [saying] that we are rats.”
Nick Wallis: My name is Nick Wallis, and this is Dirty Deeds Tales of Global Crime and Corruption, a podcast from the global journalism network the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project or OCCRP as it’s known.
This episode starts with a discussion about an OCCRP investigation into the former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš. Babiš is a billionaire businessman who made his anti-corruption drive a key part of his campaign strategy to be elected as prime minister. But the confidential data leak in October 2021, which became known as the Pandora Papers, revealed that before he became prime minister, Babiš had taken €15 million, funneled it through shell companies, and used it to buy exclusive properties in the south of France. This is something he didn’t declare when he became prime minister.
The OCCRP article was published five days before the Czech elections, which Babiš lost. The investigation was led by OCCRP journalist Pavla Holcová. I spoke to Pavla and her editor, Pete Jones, about Andrej Babiš, who publicly blamed Pavla for losing him the election. Five years ago, Pavla’s colleague, Ján Kuciak, was killed by gangsters in Slovakia, so she knows how easy it is for journalists to become targets.
Our discussion became a wider conversation about how best to stay safe while investigating powerful people and the way OCCRP operates in what can be a very dangerous world. But first, I started by asking Pete and Pavla about the Babiš story and where it came from.
Pavla Holcová: This was a project that was based on a leak of data about offshore companies shared with us by ICIJ, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who were also behind the Panama Papers. And one day they called me and told me that there’s a Czech prime minister and if we are going to work on this project, and I said, sure, of course. And that’s how it started.
Nick Wallis: What was extraordinary about this was that his name was there in the Pandora Papers.
Pavla Holcová: Yes. He did this transaction with an offshore company before he entered politics, and he probably wanted to save some money. So that’s probably why he put his name, and he did not really think twice before putting his name on the papers.
Nick Wallis: So just explain what this transaction was and why he appeared in these papers and the strange, convoluted method that he used to buy these luxury properties in the south of France.
Pete Jones: This is kind of the beauty of these projects, right, is that people use these offshore structures because they’re anonymous, so they think their name is hidden. And then you get a leak like this and then suddenly there’s the name just out in broad daylight. I don’t think anybody ever expected it to be revealed, but then when you find it, that’s a kind of the thread to pull on.
This was basically what Pavla and the people that she works with at her member center in the Czech Republic did, they started to pull on the thread, and look at this company where they had found Babiš’ name. And it’s a pretty convoluted and complex transaction, but in relatively simple terms he injected €15 million into this offshore company that he’d set up and that he owned, but without the leak, no one would have known that it was his.
And then he started to loan that money on to other companies that he owned. So loaning the money gives this veneer of legitimacy to what’s happening, so you have a loan contract that has repayment terms and interest rates, and so he used these loans, moved them through two companies and used that money to buy this mansion in the south of France.
But the whole point of doing it is to effectively obscure the origin of the money. So no one really knows where the original €15 million came from. It’s possible that it came from some kind of corruption or criminality or some kind of dubious background, but by the time he’s buying the mansion, it looks pretty legit because it just appears to be a loan that he’s received.
Nick Wallis: Yet this man was someone who had campaigned on anti-corruption measures once he entered politics and he was a billionaire in his own right, again before he entered politics. So it seems strange that a relatively small sum, €15 million, should surface in such an obscure kind of way and then be used in this very convoluted way to buy property.
Pete Jones: It’s even more suspicious in a way. One of the important things that we do is unpick these transactions, and it takes an enormous amount of time looking through these very lengthy contracts that get drawn up to cover the loans or the ways in which the companies are set up.
And then it’s really important that once we think we understand it, that we try and speak to experts to make sure that we really do have a good sense of what’s going on. And when we went and spoke to experts, they were like: “Well, this doesn’t make any economic sense. Why would you go to this degree of effort and this degree of trouble to set up this company and inject the money into that and then loan it to another one and loan to another one?”
Pavla Holcová: The loan contract was written in a very, I would say, cheap way, let’s say because, for example, there was no collateral mentioned. You are just giving someone the loan of €15 million and you don’t want any kind of collateral or any kind of backup.
Nick Wallis: And the loan contract was between a company that he’d set up and another company that he’d set up in a different jurisdiction.
Pavla Holcová: Yes, indeed. It was actually even more twisted because it was between a company in the British Virgin Islands to a company in Washington, but the condition was that he will immediately give the money to a company in Monaco to buy real estate. So right from the top it was quite obvious that this money was intended to be spent on real estate and that this whole chain of companies and probably fake transactions were there just to buy real estate.
Nick Wallis: Yeah. And even though you were able to trace the money through this trail of companies, you weren’t able to find out where the actual source of that original €15 million came from.
Pavla Holcová: Indeed, and that’s a question we tried to ask Andrej Babiš. We never received any official response, even though we asked two weeks before the publication date. And when we tried to ask Andre Babiš this question, we were pushed out. My colleagues were pushed out of his reach by his bodyguards.
Nick Wallis: Yes, I think we can actually listen to some of the audio from that because you’ve published it up on YouTube.
Translator: [Translating for a journalist questioning Andrej Babiš at a press conference] Have you ever had an offshore company in the Caribbean? If I say the name Blakey Finance, the year 2009, €15 million, does this ring a bell? I’m waiting for the Prime Minister to respond. I’m sorry, I’m asking a question. Prime Minister, do you want to answer?
Translator: One of Babiš’ bodyguards then responds with: “The press conference is over. Don’t you understand that? You don’t understand that? Go away.”
Nick Wallis: This is the actual confrontation between Andrej Babiš and one of your journalists when she tried to ask the questions that he had so far been refusing to answer. It’s very interesting that a public figure chose to disregard the questions in that way and it does add to that suspicion. When this article was published, it wasn’t that long before the country went to the polls. What kind of impact did it have in the Czech Republic?
Pavla Holcová: Andrej Babiš made a short video to his electorate saying that I lost his election because I convinced 24% of people to change their mind and vote for someone else. That’s absolutely nonsense, of course.
Nick Wallis: Sorry when you say ‘you’, [you mean] you personally?
Pavla Holcová: Yes. He made me a target. Yes.
Nick Wallis: What was that like? When that big a figure uses your name and accuses you of doing that, what kind of impact does that have on you?
Pavla Holcová: Well, it’s even more funny. He didn’t use my name. He was just showing my picture, my photo, and he said, “this lady lost our elections.”
Nick Wallis: So how on earth did you react to that? I imagine your phone was pinging.
Pavla Holcová: I read the social networks. There were a lot of threats I received by email, by messages on social networks. Well, yeah, it was not nice.
Nick Wallis: Not nice, so just give us a little insight into that, because very few journalists get to the point where the people they are targeting, especially people with a platform, a senior politician at a national level, actually go and single them out. Presumably this came completely out of the blue. How did you react?
Pavla Holcová: Of course, I was ignoring and we made fun of it a bit, but somewhere in the back of your brain, it’s just very exhausting. Of course, I also needed to take care of the rest of my team that worked on the project because we were receiving like hundreds of messages daily accusing us of influencing elections and that we are rats and there is water boiling for… well that’s a bad word so I wouldn’t use it.
Nick Wallis: Pete, you must have been watching this aghast. How did you respond and react when you saw this happen in the Czech Republic?
Pete Jones: It’s a horrible thing to see.
Nick Wallis: You expect brickbats as a journalist, don’t you? That comes with the territory, but this sounds like it was another level.
Pete Jones: Yeah, it’s where you see someone singled out so explicitly that it’s actually worrisome. These people are extremely powerful individuals. The people that we write about tend to be public figures with a lot of public power or organized crime figures or extremely powerful businessmen, corrupt businessmen. So you know that these are powerful people who are willing to go to extreme lengths to protect the money or the power that they have.
So when you see someone singled out so explicitly, it’s extremely worrying. There is a long history, a tragic history of journalists being singled out even for physical violence as well all over the world, and we work with a lot of reporters who operate in these extremely vulnerable environments. For us, building security protocols and trying to be ready to react, it’s all very important, but when you’re caught in the moment, you really worry that what you have available to you, the tools you have available to protect your colleagues, you worry whether they’re sufficient.
Nick Wallis: Yeah, and obviously you have to develop that thick hide, but as Pavla said, it still gets to you at the back of your mind, it still tears away at your daily thinking. So just take me through the timeline. You published the article. He lost the election. He then accused you, not by name, but by showing your image to his supporters and blamed you for him losing the election. How did the next few weeks play out? Did you lie low? Did you respond? What happened?
Pavla Holcová: Of course we responded, we published on our website answers to the things that he was saying, trying to explain that there was a global deadline on publishing this project, that we didn’t pick the date to influence the elections and so on. But I guess people don’t read. We did not lay low because I still feel safe in my country, and we did some brief evaluation of the messages we were receiving and we decided it’s not that serious that we would ask for police protection or any kind of radical step.
Nick Wallis: It’s difficult, isn’t it, because nowadays everyone has a platform to voice their opinion and it’s sorting out the serious threats from the knuckle draggers who are just mouthing off. But again, very dramatic to be in that position.
I know it’s very serious because you’ve lost a colleague in the last few years investigating a different story. I’m talking specifically about your colleague Ján Kuciak who sadly was murdered along with his girlfriend. I don’t necessarily think that people understand the risks that journalists are taking, especially investigative journalists, when they’re looking into organized crime and things happening in jurisdictions where the rule of law perhaps isn’t as strong as it could be. How did losing a colleague affect you?
Pavla Holcová: The first three years were really difficult. Because when I received a message about the matter, I just wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and cry. But at the same time, I knew that if I did that, I would have failed. Maybe not as a journalist, but definitely as a friend.
So we created a team of journalists from Slovakia and we understood that we needed to finish all the stories Ján had started, just to send a message. You can kill a journalist, but it wouldn’t prevent the story from being published. So we published the stories, we worked hard, but it was probably the worst thing regarding my psychological profile that I could do, because instead of trying to convince my brain that it happened in a past and I’m not in danger, I dipped into the stories and I investigated the murder and I went through the forensic reconstruction of the shooting, and I went to the house, to the crime scene, and there was still blood. And it was quite damaging to my wellbeing. So, yes, that was difficult.
Nick Wallis: Andrej Babiš must have known that you had been through this experience when he put that picture up of you in front of his supporters.
Pavla Holcová: I don’t think he really cared.
Nick Wallis: Because he was essentially making you a target.
Pavla Holcová: Yes, but he also needed to explain to the people who voted for him what happened and why he lost. And I was the easy explanation.
Nick Wallis: Given what you’ve been through over the past few years, no one would blame you for walking away from journalism. What is it that kept you going on this, kept you determined to work on these very knotty, very difficult and sometimes dangerous stories?
Pavla Holcová: First of all, I have great colleagues and they are a great motivation and great support and they keep me going. And I’m talking about people like Pete from OCCRP, but also about my Czech colleagues. And at the same time, we just can’t give up the fight and say, okay, maybe someone else should do it, because I still believe it’s a job that makes sense because all of us want to see a better world and not give up the fight with bad people. And if we gave up, we would go in exile to some deserted island or forest and cry.
Nick Wallis: Are you okay now? How are you feeling about your work and yourself personally now, given what’s happened to you and what’s happened to your colleagues in the past few years?
Pavla Holcová: Yes. I was born an optimist and a happy person and I’m not giving up on it. I may have dark moments, but overall my life is beautiful.
Pete Jones: I also think that what we see here at OCCRP and from the member centers, who are the people really out in the field doing the most dangerous reporting and putting themselves in the firing line, because I don’t think anybody goes into investigative journalism to make money, people go into it because they believe in it and they believe they’re doing something important and have some great important public interest.
In the daily churn of what we do as journalists, which can be spending an entire day reading loan documents, you kind of forget that the end product has this massive impact in the real world, and then there are incidences, sudden moments like what happened with Ján, that really snap you back to reality and make you realize what you’re dealing with when you’re reporting on these kinds of figures and how important that is, and in order to keep going.
What I’ve found since joining OCCRP, very much like what Pavla said, is a sense of obligation to my colleagues really immediately, because we editors at OCCRP are not putting ourselves directly in the firing line. We’re trying to help as best we can to produce the best stories that have the best impact, but the obligation we have to those reporters who are out there doing that kind of reporting, the people that Pavla is reporting on and all of her journalists that she works with at her center and the centers across the world, we owe it to them to keep going and to do the best job we can.
Nick Wallis: And as someone who’s come from a more mainstream media background, my experience of newsrooms is broadcast media, how have you found OCCRP as an organization and how does it differ from traditional news media in your experience?
Pete Jones: There’s a real commitment to doing a story right. These stories that OCCRP does generally are much more gnarly and difficult and complicated and risky than most newsrooms are willing to take on.
I worked as a reporter in Africa for newswires and for The Guardian for a while, and there the emphasis and the onus is on daily news, spot news, and you’re trying to churn out a couple of stories every single day and the sorts of things that people at OCCRP work on are not done in a day, and they really require a commitment of resources and manpower and energy to be able to unpick some of these incredibly difficult and complex stories. Also I just find that the people that we work with in the member centers and OCCRP direct employees who are acting as reporters are unbelievably committed and to be honest, kind of crazy.
Most of the people I work with are slightly nuts, super committed to their stories, super committed to the patch that they’re working or the beat that they’re working and it’s been energizing and engaging in a way that no other reporting I’ve ever done or no other journalism I’ve ever done has even come close to. There’s a real sense of camaraderie, first of all, but also there’s a really brilliant, dry, slightly gallows humor that’s shared among a lot of journalists working in this field.
One of the things I’ve found since I joined the organization is just how much I’ve actually enjoyed being around colleagues because everyone has a really good time most of the time, it’s just really great fun. We had a global gathering a couple of weeks ago and had a big party at the end and you’ve got to be able to let off steam a little bit when people are operating under such pressure. Only really the people you work with can understand that.
Nick Wallis: Just explain to me member centers, because people might not realize how OCCRP operates with regard to the relationships it has with news organizations in various territories.
Pete Jones: You can think of it as a sort of federal system. So there are a few of us employed centrally directly by OCCRP who work as editors, and there’s a handful, a few dozen reporters, and then there are member centers, which are investigative journalistic outlets in various countries who are affiliated with OCCRP and are very closely connected.
They will do their own reporting in their own country in a normal way, but also where they feel they have a really interesting cross-border transnational organized crime or corruption story, they might bring that story to the central OCCRP organization, pitch it, and if everybody likes it and thinks it’s going to work, then we all work on it together and that’s where we can start to bring in member centers from other relevant countries to the story.
Because really what OCCRP is about is grounding a network and trying to have a network of journalists who are brilliant investigators, who understand their own countries and their own beat, and then connect them with people who are in other countries where there’s a story that’s relevant. So you have international finance flows across borders with no checks, but the police in each country are constrained by their borders. Well, we want our reporters to be able to cross borders with no checks as well. And that’s the only way you can kind of report on international crime and international corruption that is unrestrained by these national boundaries. So that’s the idea. So you have these member centers in each country with a central OCCRP coordinating body.
Nick Wallis: And OCCRP itself is funded by philanthropic trusts or individuals? Because this is one question that people often ask. How do you get the funding to put together such long and knotty investigations, which are obviously incredibly time consuming and in some cases may go completely nowhere. How do you actually keep going?
Pete Jones: There’s a very important firewall between the journalistic side inside OCCRP and the side that makes the money. And I think that is very important because we do definitely have donations sometimes from government funds that are looking at promoting transparency and democracy.
An interesting development recently which relates to this conversation, though, is that, since 2016 we’ve lived in an era of these massive leaks, and that is something that’s slightly leveled the playing field in terms of investigative journalism because we’ve been able to hold to account people who were acting with quite a lot of impunity prior to that, the extremely wealthy and the extremely corrupt and the extremely criminal who were making use of this global financial system built by bankers and accountants and lawyers to allow them to remain secret owners of companies and to avoid taxes.
And I think that comes back to your question, Nick, about why Babiš would even have his name on one of these companies. Isn’t that shocking? But he put his name on it in 2009, and now that’s been torn apart by all of these fantastic leaks. I think one of the other major issues that we face that I think you’ve touched upon there is legal threats. A lot of these extremely wealthy businessmen in particular will weaponize the courts against journalists and sue them for libel, and they may not stand a chance of winning, but it’s just trying to intimidate people into not publishing stories.
Nick Wallis: These are called SLAPP suits aren’t they?
Pete Jones: Exactly, yes.
Nick Wallis: Just I can’t remember what it stands for off the top of my head. Strategic lawsuits against public participation?
Pete Jones: Strategic litigation.
Nick Wallis: Strategic litigation, yes.
Pete Jones: Trying to use up your resources so you have to spend too much money on lawyers. This is a real issue and it’s a real issue in the U.K., obviously, where libel laws are extremely, extremely difficult, extremely onerous. It’s one of the most difficult jurisdictions for journalists to operate. And I think that is a big part of the arms race but I do think there’s a growing public awareness of how those laws are being abused now, which is useful.
Nick Wallis: And Pavla when it comes to exposing the bad guys, does OCCRP take steps to make you feel safe or to make you safe? Do you feel protected when you are doing work which could be perceived as dangerous?
Pavla Holcová: Yes. We even have training on digital and personal safety and security, and there are of course, procedures. What is going to happen when you are kidnapped? What is going to happen when you are in danger and you need to immediately leave the country? So yes, I probably wouldn’t be so relaxed about the job I am doing and people I’m reporting on without this backup and knowledge.
Nick Wallis: I think people are fascinated by the craft of this kind of journalism and it’s not just about personal safety, is it, Pete? It’s about information safety and data security and how to make sure that your phone isn’t compromised, etc. Do you do training and do you get involved in things like that as well?
Pete Jones: Yeah, all the time. We reported last year on the Pegasus Project, which looked at the Pegasus software produced by…
Nick Wallis: That’s the Israeli spyware.
Pete Jones: The Israeli spyware, exactly, which can hack your phone and basically record you, monitor where you are, it can do anything, it can do more than the user can do with the phone. Reporting on that project really opened our eyes to the kinds of threats that are out there and how many governments have access to that kind of software. Even private companies have access to that kind of software.
So if you’re annoying somebody in a more authoritarian government who has access to this stuff, they could have been recording any conversation you have with any source and that’s what really keeps you up at night for me as an editor, it’s not only the threats to reporters in difficult areas, like I’m working with a reporter who’s been working in the Middle East and has come under threats and you go through all the protocols that Pavla mentioned, we have all these things in place.
But it still keeps you up at night wondering what’s going to happen when they go on this reporting trip, and then protection of sources, which is the most paramount thing in journalism, and then you realize that there are bad guys out there with the kind of technology that allows them to record you speaking to them, even when you think you’ve got a secure line. That’s extremely worrisome. So we have a lot of training around that, how to have good digital hygiene and how to try to make sure that you have good physical security as well.
Nick Wallis: To pick up on the points made by Pavla and Pete, I spoke to Will Nattrass, a British journalist based in Prague, to get his views on corruption, where the Czech Republic is heading politically, and the charges which have been brought against Andrej Babiš.
Will Nattrass: The revelations confirmed what people thought about Babiš, I think, and they rammed home just a few days before the vote that there were serious questions to ask about his personal dealings and his personal relationship with power.
So it’s hard to say how much it actually influenced the vote, because I think Czech politics is very polarized and it’s also extremely polarized when it comes to Babiš’ personality. So to some degree people have such fixed opinions of the man that it’s hard to say whether they would have changed their minds. But I think that, coming as it did so close to the vote, it really focused everyone’s minds on this problematic aspect of his character.
Nick Wallis: How big a deal is corruption seen as in the Czech Republic, or how big a problem is it?
Will Nattrass: It’s seen as a big problem. The difficult thing when we talk about corruption is that, Babiš, it’s a huge topic with him, but at the same time it’s something which is to some extent seen as touching on people of all different parties and different political persuasions. It’s not just focused on one man.
So since the new government came in, there have been corruption scandals about political parties in the new coalition. Anti-corruption is to some extent a platitudinous statement here because every party says it’s anti-corruption and it comes in to combat the corruption of the previous regime and then with the new government corruption scandals emerge and then a new movement comes up to tackle that kind of corruption, and it goes in a circular [cycle].
Nick Wallis: Where is the corruption in Czech society? Is it within the government? Is it the way that contracts are awarded, etc.? Or do you literally have to grease the wheels in every part of your daily life?
Will Nattrass: It’s not that endemic. Recent scandals have been to do with things like public tenders in transportation or construction, and so on and so forth, bribes and so on. It’s very well publicized and there are so many scandals one imagines that it must be fading to some extent, those nefarious goings on, but they do seem to come up with quite alarming regularity.
Nick Wallis: One of the things that Pavla said was that she still feels like she’s got a free press in the Czech Republic. Is that a feeling that you would share as a journalist working in the same area?
Will Nattrass: Yeah, I would actually. Much more so than in some other countries in this region, especially when it comes to the national broadcasters like Czech Television. A lot of rural people and social conservatives would say that they have a metropolitan, liberal-leaning bias, and that’s a very common claim, and Babiš, of course, would say that they’re biased against him. But at the same time, I think that you can say what you believe without fear of any kind of bad consequences. I think that, comparatively speaking, it’s pretty good here.
Nick Wallis: What kind of political conversations are being had in the Czech Republic now, especially in the light of what’s happened in Ukraine? And where does Babiš fit into all this? Because, of course, you’ve got the EU and discussions about where the EU should be going, but of course you’ve got this threat or perceived threat potentially from the East.
Will Nattrass: The geopolitical orientation of the country is a big ideological talking point in a way that we’re not really as familiar with in the UK because of the history and also the culture. The orientation between East and West is a huge debate in this country.
At the moment, all the presidential candidates and the current governments are quite clearly pro-Western and pro-EU, pro-NATO, and Babiš is pretty much the same. But at the same time, there’s a large body of opinion in certain sections of the population which are very skeptical of the EU, very skeptical of the West, very skeptical and even slightly hostile towards America. And they’re very dubious about Western progressive values.
Nick Wallis: Did anyone ever get to the bottom of where that €15 million came from?
Will Nattrass: I don’t think that case has ever been resolved. Babiš dismisses these things to a large extent. He claims that he did everything in good faith and that he paid all the taxes that he was supposed to and that there was no intention to do anything wrong.
Nick Wallis: Pavla spoke about Babiš pointing to a picture of her shortly after he lost his prime ministerial election when that story broke and the attack that she felt herself under as a result of it. She obviously got a huge social media response, but also was quite concerned at the time. Is Babiš an enemy of journalism in your view?
Will Nattrass: That’s a good question. He is deeply implicated in questions about media freedom in this country because, aside from the question of him being intimidating to journalists, he has a very confrontational attitude with the press, a very adversarial kind of relationship, as with many politicians. But to some extent he thrives off that conflict. With his current trial, he encourages people not to believe what they’re told in the media. That’s one of the biggest problems in this country and in the wider region, is that people are increasingly skeptical about what they read in the mainstream media and to some extent people like Babiš drive that change because Babiš, when it comes to his own affairs, encourages people not to believe what they read.
But at the same time, and somewhat ironically, given that he encourages people not to trust the media, he also actually owns the media, various newspapers in the Czech Republic, big broadsheets. And so whether he’s an enemy of journalism, I think he sees some journalists as his enemies quite unequivocally, and there are serious doubts about the impartiality, of course, of his own media, and there are lots of people who claim if he’s in a leadership position, if he’s prime minister or if he’s president, then that’s a serious problem for media freedom in this country as well.
Nick Wallis: That’s Will Nattrass, a freelance journalist based in the Czech Republic. My thanks to him and of course to Pete Jones and Pavla Holcová who put together OCCRP’s exposé of Andrej Babiš.
If you want to give it a read, the finished article is on OCCRP’s website and its full name is “Anti-Graft Czech Prime Minister Used Offshores to Disguise Funds for French Chateau.” If you can’t remember all that, you can just Google OCCRP and Andrej Babiš. We tried to make contact with Andrej Babiš to ask him about the points raised in the podcast. But he didn’t respond to our emails.
And since we recorded this podcast, a Czech court ordered Andrej Babiš to apologize to Pavla Holcová for falsely claiming that she was paid to undermine his pre-election campaign. Babiš was ordered to post his apology on Facebook and to leave it there for at least seven days.
Dirty Deeds: Tales of Global Crime & Corruption was produced by Lindsay Riley with research from Phoebe Adler-Ryan and Riham Moussa at Rethink Audio. The series is a Little Gem production for OCCRP. Don’t forget to like, follow, and subscribe to ensure more tales reach you the moment they’re published in the future. My name is Nick Wallis. Good-bye.