A Prague court on Monday opened a trial against billionaire former Czech prime minister Andrej Babis over his alleged involvement in EU subsidy fraud worth $2 million.
Babis was indicted in March on charges that he had helped take his Stork Nest farm south of Prague out of his giant Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding to make it eligible for a subsidy paid to small companies in 2007.
Babis, who served as prime minister from 2017-2021, has denied any wrongdoing, calling the trial “a political process” ahead of next year’s presidential election in which he is widely expected to run.
The 68-year-old, the fifth wealthiest Czech according to Forbes magazine, is charged alongside his former aide Jana Nagyova.
The hearing has attracted considerable attention, with the media and the public present as Babis arrived at Prague’s municipal court on Monday morning.
His opponents built a makeshift prison cell across the street, with a protester inside wearing a mask with Babis’ photo.
Babis is chairman of the opposition centrist populist ANO movement which narrowly lost last year’s general election to a three-party centre-right coalition led by the current premier, Petr Fiala.
ANO still tops opinion polls, having scored 30.5-per cent support in a Kantar CZ poll for Czech Television, published on Sunday.
Fiala’s right-wing Civic Democrats came second on 19.5 per cent as the government is battling soaring inflation in part fuelled by energy prices spiking after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Babis, who is also facing accusations of having served as a communist secret police agent in the 1980s, currently sits as a lawmaker.
Parliament stripped him of his immunity in March to pave the way for the indictment.