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Andrej Babis, billionaire ex-PM in Czech presidential run-off

#Andrej #Babis #billionaire #exPM #Czech #presidential #runoff

Billionaire lawmaker and former premier Andrej Babis, who will vie for the Czech presidency in a run-off later this month, has been dogged by his communist past and controversial business dealings.

Babis will face retired general Petr Pavel in the decider on January 27-28 after having secured second place by a tight margin in the first round of the election.

The winner will succeed outgoing head of state Milos Zeman, a colourful character and Babis ally known for his outspoken views and hard drinking.

Babis, who was born in neighbouring Slovakia, once insisted he would never run for president, saying: “I would not enjoy the job”.

The entrepreneur is the fifth wealthiest Czech according to Forbes magazine, and made his fortune as owner of the sprawling Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding.

Babis got his start in politics as chairman of his ANO (“YES”) movement, campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket. 

The centrist populist party entered parliament in 2013.

Babis has since battled allegations of violating Czech and EU conflict of interest rules with his dual role as a businessman and politician.

Earlier this month, a Prague court acquitted Babis on charges of EU subsidy fraud worth $2 million following almost six years of prosecution.

Babis has always denied wrongdoing, labelling the charges “a smear campaign”.

He is also embroiled in lawsuits over his alleged past as an agent of the StB secret police in the 1980s, when the former Czechoslovakia was ruled by Moscow-steered communists.

StB files bear his signature under the alias “Bures”, a fairly common surname, but Babis insists he did not sign anything. 

He served as finance minister in 2014-2017 but was ousted after leaked recordings showed he had influenced reporters working for his newspapers.

He bounced back as premier, serving as head of government until 2021, when his party narrowly lost to the governing centre-right Together coalition. He has since been sitting as a lawmaker.

– Work ethic –

An ex-communist who once served up doughnuts to woo voters, Babis has a net worth of $4.3 billion according to the 2022 Forbes list.

Thanks to a father who he claims “co-founded foreign trade in Slovakia” under communism, Babis grew up on the road, attending elementary school in Paris and high school in Geneva.

He says his work ethic and knack for making money came at an early age.

“I’ve worked since I was 15: delivered milk, unloaded parcels at the station, did decorating, built weekend houses — all to make money,” he once said.

After earning an economics degree, he followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as a sales representative in Morocco.

When the Velvet Revolution toppled totalitarian rule in 1989, Babis returned home to find himself jobless and his country split in two.

At the turn of the century, when Zeman was prime minister, Babis bought Agrofert in a deal described as suspicious by critics, who say he got it very cheap.

Born on September 2, 1954 in Bratislava, Babis is married to Monika, with whom he has two children. He has two others with his ex-wife.

Babis used to play tennis and volleyball, but he has since whittled down his list of hobbies.

“When I have time off, I try to be with the family, I sleep or I do nothing,” he once said.

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