Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has used offshore firms to finance his purchase of a £13m mansion in the south of France, suggest the so-called Pandora Papers, leaked documents that have been shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with media around the world on Sunday.
The five-bedroom Chateau Bigaud, with its 9.4 acres, is nestled between medieval ruins and lush forests. It is a hidden gem of Mougins, the hilltop village where Picasso spent the last 12 years of his life.
As of January, public records showed that the chateau belonged to a subsidiary of one of the Czech companies indirectly owned by Babis.
At the time Babiš acquired the property, the Czech press was beginning to report that his giant conglomerate was the secret owner of a luxury resort south of Prague that may have improperly obtained millions of dollars in European Union subsidies intended for small businesses. EU authorities would later find “irregularities” in the way Babis’ company had obtained the funds.
Babiš’ ownership of the French chateau and the offshore transactions that obscured his involvement haven’t been disclosed previously. There is no evidence that the chateau’s purchase is linked to the subsidy.
But the purchase of Chateau Bigaud stands in sharp contrast to Babiš’ carefully cultivated image as the prime minister who led a crackdown on tax avoidance as part of an effort to restore the country to fiscal health. It also shows how the offshore system can help even the most prominent public officials escape public scrutiny.
Experts interviewed by ICIJ said the offshore arrangement used by Babis could have reduced his tax bill while hiding his ownership of the property from the public.
Asset declaration forms obtained by Investigace.cz, ICIJ’s Czech partner, show that neither the chateau property nor the companies involved in its ownership appear in documents that Babis has filed, as required by Czech law, since entering politics.
Babiš denies any wrongdoing, saying he didn’t do anything illegal.
Speaking in a television debate hosted by CNN Prima News, he said: “The money left a Czech bank, was taxed, it was my money, and returned to a Czech bank,” Babis, who is campaigning for an Oct. 8-9 election, said during the debate.
Asked if he had broken any law in the Czech Republic, France or United States in relation to the 2009 property purchase, he said: “Of course not…It was taxed money.”
The newly revealed documents are part of Pandora Papers, a cache of more than 11.9 million secret files obtained by ICIJ.
They come from 14 law and offshore professional-services firms that register, sell and handle the paperwork for shell companies and trusts for wealthy clients, including political leaders, industry tycoons and, sometimes, criminals.