Saturday, 18 November 2017

Key evidence on Stork Nest dubious EU subsidy is lost

ČTK |
19 May 2016

Prague, May 18 (CTK) - The Czech Finance Ministry's enquiry into the suspected fraudulent drawing of a 50-million crown EU subsidy by billionaire Andrej Babis, current finance minister, has not dissipated the suspicion because it turned out that the crucial evidence has been lost, daily Pravo writes on Wednesday.

The suspicion concerns the Stork Nest farm complex situated south of Prague, which is a part of the Agrofert Holding of Babis, a food, chemical and media magnate and the ANO movement leader.

The Farma Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) company belonged to Agrofert Holding until 2007. Afterwards, its stake was transferred to bearer shares for a small firm to reach the EU subsidy that a firm of the huge Agrofert Holding could never get. It observed this condition for five years, which is a period required by the EU, but later it returned to Agrofert Holding.

Babis told deputies at a special lower house session in March that the bearer shares of the farm were owned by his adult children and his brother-in-law when it received the EU subsidy.

To prove his words, he would have had to submit a list of the persons who attended the Stork Nest's general meetings from 2008 to 2010 or the credentials, if the shareholders sent substitutes to take part on their behalf.

However, the audit the ministry has completed now shows that the documents that would prove who the Stork Nest's real owner was from 2008 to 2010 have been lost, Pravo writes, citing the server Neovlivni.cz.

The Imoba company, which is a part of Agrofert and which owns the Stork Nest now, reportedly told the auditors that it failed to find the above lists.

As a result, the audit was unable either to confirm or refute whether the Stork Nest had been a part of Agrofert Holding in the period in question and whether it was eligible for the subsidy, Pravo writes.

According to the auditors, the failure to submit the documents and provide an explanation means "another indication that increases the probability of Agrofert Holding and the Stork Nest having been parts of the same economic subject" that could not be viewed as a small or a medium-sized one, Pravo writes.

The auditors say it is up to the European Commission (EC) to issue a final verdict.

The EC has received the results of the Czech audit and said it will study it and decide what to do next, Czech Television has reported.

Explaining the issue in the lower house in March, Babis said Agrofert had been a partner of the Stork Nest, guaranteed a bank loan for it, and Imoba leased real estate to it. However, the Stork Nest company was loss-making, which is why Agrofert was later forced to take it over again, Babis asserted.

The auditors say Agrofert was also providing further services to the Stork Nest. The audit proved a backup from Agrofert Holding that ensured advantageous loan conditions for the Stork Nest, which benefited it in the competition with small and medium-sized firms, the auditors write in their report, the text of which Pravo has at its disposal.

Apart from the Czech police, the Stork Nest project has been checked by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Pravo writes.

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