PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis denied any wrongdoing on Sunday in connection with an international investigative report that listed him among current and former world politicians and businessmen that it says have used offshore financial structures.
The Pandora Papers report, by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, said Babis moved $22 million through offshore companies to buy an estate on the French Riviera in 2009 while keeping his ownership secret. The report did not say the transactions broke the law.
Speaking in a television debate hosted by CNN Prima News, Babis denied any wrongdoing.
“The money left a Czech bank, was taxed, it was my money, and returned to a Czech bank,” Babis, who is campaigning for an Oct. 8-9 election, said during the debate.
Asked if he had broken any law in the Czech Republic, France or United States in relation to the 2009 property purchase, he said: “Of course not…It was taxed money.”
Babis said a previously done audit proved he had sufficient and taxed income for the transaction.
Babis, founder of the Agrofert farming, food, chemicals and media empire, entered politics in 2011 and formed a new political party, ANO, to campaign against corruption.
He became finance minister in 2014 and prime minister in 2017, putting his Agrofert assets into trust before he became premier.
He has faced a criminal investigation over allegations that he hid ownership of a project to build a conference and leisure resort outside Prague so it would qualify for 2 million euros in European Union subsidies meant for small business. He denied any wrongdoing in that case. Prosecutors are expected to decide in the coming weeks whether Babis will have to face trial or the case will be dropped.
A European Commission audit released in April this year found that his continued links to Agrofert, which received European development subsidies while Babis was in office, represented a conflict of interest.
Babis has repeatedly said he has met legal requirements by putting his assets into trust funds.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry)