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Czech leader to face fraud charges after decision overturned

PRAGUE (AP) — Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis faces charges again over an alleged $2 million fraud involving European Union subsidies after the country’s chief prosecutor overturned a previous decision to drop the case.

Prosecutor General Pavel Zeman announced the move Wednesday after evaluating a September finding to dismiss the charges despite a police recommendation to indict Babis. Zeman said that was done “against the law and prematurely.”

“At this point, we don’t have enough evidence to press or drop the charges,” Zeman said. Babis, a populist billionaire, repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. “I haven’t done anything illegal,” he said on Wednesday.

The case involves a farm known as the Stork's Nest that received EU subsidies after its ownership was transferred from the Babis-owned Agrofert conglomerate of around 250 companies to members of Babis' family.

They were also facing the charges but Zeman upheld the decision to dismiss them in their case. “It’s a relief for the family,” Babis said. The subsidies were meant for medium-sized and small businesses and Agrofert would not have been eligible for them. Later, Agrofert again took ownership of the farm.

Agrofert later returned the subsidy. It is not immediately clear when the prosecution might finish the re-evaluation of the case. The charges caused serious complications for Babis. After he won the 2017 parliamentary election, he faced a difficult task to form a government because other parties in Parliament were reluctant to enter a coalition with his centrist ANO movement.

He finally created a coalition with the leftist Social Democrats that has support from the Communists, a controversial move that gave the far-left party an indirect share of power for the first time since the anti-Communist 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Massive street protests, unseen from 1989, against Babis took place in Prague and across the country earlier this year. Separately, a European Union report in recent days concluded that Babis might have had a conflict of interest over EU subsidies involving his former business empire, according to local media.

The European Commission has not published the result of its audit because the procedure has not been completed. Babis again denies wrongdoing.

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