Billionaire Premier Sparks Pragues Biggest Protest Since 1989

(Bloomberg) — Czechs took to the streets in the biggest protests since the fall of communism, demanding that billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis resign over allegations of conflict of interest and a criminal fraud case involving European Union funds.Organizers said about 250,000 people rallied against the minority government on Sunday in Pragues Letna park, scene of the largest rallies that toppled communist rule 30 years ago. It was a culmination of two months of protests against Babis, who has denounced the accusations as an attempt by his opponents to derail his political career. Police estimated the crowd at 200,000. The protesters, many of whom traveled from the far-flung reaches of the central European country, waved EU and Czech flags and banners reading Resign. Public transportation strained under the pressure of people arriving to the site near the Prague castle. Student activists organizing the rallies say the premier is unfit to stay in the office because of the mounting scandals.We cant accept a prime minister whos facing a criminal investigation and is in such a fundamental conflict of interest, Benjamin Roll, one of the organizers, told the crowd. Weve had enough.Babis is facing potential criminal charges over allegations that a company he once owned illegally obtained about $2 million worth of EU aid last decade. Also, a preliminary report from the European Commission found Babis in conflict of interest because, despite having put his agriculture, media and chemical business empire in trusts, he has influence over EU funds they may receive.I came here because I disagree with the way Andrej Babis is ruling this country, that he is using it to multiply his wealth, that he is troubling it with his personal problems, said Petr Vlach, who traveled 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the capital from the eastern town of Vizovice.Read more: New Czech Justice Chief Faces Ire Over Fraud Probe Into PremierBabis already said that the country will dispute the preliminary audit results since he met the legal obligations by placing his company in trusts before taking office. He has repeatedly rejected accusations of misconduct in obtaining the EU money.The prime minister, whose ANO party leads in opinion polls, is also facing an opposition-led confidence vote in parliament in the coming days. The parties dont have enough votes to oust the government.Babis, who has said he wont resign even if charged with fraud, said people have the right to express their opinion but added that he doesnt quite understand why the rallies are taking place. He also rebuffed the demonstrators concerns that his new justice minister may try to interfere with the fraud probe in order to prevent him from going to court.Im sorry that people are protesting against something that hasnt happened and wont happen, news server Aktualne.cz cited him as saying on Sunday. Most of those allegations are not even true.(Updates with police estimate in second paragraph.)\–With assistance from Krystof Chamonikolas.To contact the reporters on this story: Lenka Ponikelska in Prague at ;Peter Laca in Prague at o contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at , ;Andrea Dudik at , Tony CzuczkaFor more articles like this, please visit us at m©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

(Bloomberg) — Czechs took to the streets in the biggest protests since the fall of communism, demanding that billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis resign over allegations of conflict of interest and a criminal fraud case involving European Union funds.

Organizers said about 250,000 people rallied against the minority government on Sunday in Pragues Letna park, scene of the largest rallies that toppled communist rule 30 years ago. It was a culmination of two months of protests against Babis, who has denounced the accusations as an attempt by his opponents to derail his political career. Police estimated the crowd at 200,000.

The protesters, many of whom traveled from the far-flung reaches of the central European country, waved EU and Czech flags and banners reading Resign. Public transportation strained under the pressure of people arriving to the site near the Prague castle. Student activists organizing the rallies say the premier is unfit to stay in the office because of the mounting scandals.

We cant accept a prime minister whos facing a criminal investigation and is in such a fundamental conflict of interest, Benjamin Roll, one of the organizers, told the crowd. Weve had enough.

Babis is facing potential criminal charges over allegations that a company he once owned illegally obtained about $2 million worth of EU aid last decade. Also, a preliminary report from the European Commission found Babis in conflict of interest because, despite having put his agriculture, media and chemical business empire in trusts, he has influence over EU funds they may receive.

I came here because I disagree with the way Andrej Babis is ruling this country, that he is using it to multiply his wealth, that he is troubling it with his personal problems, said Petr Vlach, who traveled 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the capital from the eastern town of Vizovice.

Read more: New Czech Justice Chief Faces Ire Over Fraud Probe Into Premier

Babis already said that the country will dispute the preliminary audit results since he met the legal obligations by placing his company in trusts before taking office. He has repeatedly rejected accusations of misconduct in obtaining the EU money.

The prime minister, whose ANO party leads in opinion polls, is also facing an opposition-led confidence vote in parliament in the coming days. The parties dont have enough votes to oust the government.

Babis, who has said he wont resign even if charged with fraud, said people have the right to express their opinion but added that he doesnt quite understand why the rallies are taking place. He also rebuffed the demonstrators concerns that his new justice minister may try to interfere with the fraud probe in order to prevent him from going to court.

Im sorry that people are protesting against something that hasnt happened and wont happen, news server Aktualne.cz cited him as saying on Sunday. Most of those allegations are not even true.

(Updates with police estimate in second paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Lenka Ponikelska in Prague at ;Peter Laca in Prague at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at , ;Andrea Dudik at , Tony Czuczka

For more articles like this, please visit us atbloomberg.com