(Bloomberg) -- Czech President Milos Zeman effectively ended the threat of criminal charges against Prime Minister Andrej Babis, saying he’d use his constitutional powers to stop prosecutors from reopening a fraud case against his billionaire ally.
Babis, the second richest Czech and the country’s most popular politician, has been dogged by accusations that a company he founded misused European Union development funds. While he denies wrongdoing, the case triggered the biggest anti-government protests since the fall of the Iron Curtain and prompted a wide swath of political parties to shun cooperation.
The premier, who is also facing a conflict-of-interest probe by the EU’s executive, won a reprieve last week when prosecutors in Prague cleared him of wrongdoing. The nation’s top prosecutor is now reviewing the decision and could potentially revive the case.
But Zeman, a populist who has made his mark on Czech politics by using creative interpretations of his traditionally ceremonial role to carve out more power, said he wouldn’t let that happen.
“If it were necessary, and I believe that won’t be the case, then I would use my constitutional rights,” Zeman said late Thursday on Barrandov TV. Zeman said he respects the decision of the Prague prosecutors and that he wouldn’t have used his powers before their conclusion.
The comments drew fire from critics across the political spectrum, including from the Social Democrats, who rule with Babis in his minority coalition. Stopping a renewed prosecution would “be an inappropriate intervention in the function of the judicial system and the equality of all citizens before law,” the party’s leader, Jan Hamacek, told the CTK news service.
Zeman, who won a second term in 2018 on an anti-immigrant platform, has repeatedly helped Babis stay in power. The president broke normal protocol later the same year by giving Babis a second chance to form a government, rather than turning to another party, after he failed to muster a parliamentary majority.
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