French authorities are investigating Andrej Babis, the Czech Republic’s former prime minister, for suspected money laundering related to a $22 million property deal exposed last fall by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Pandora Papers investigation.
The Central Office Against Corruption, Financial and Fiscal Offenses opened the probe in February into Babis’ 2009 acquisition of a lavish real estate in Southern France to assess whether he may have laundered the proceeds of tax fraud, according to exclusive information obtained by Le Monde, an ICIJ partner.
In October, ICIJ and media partners revealed that Babis, a billionaire businessman and politician, had used a web of shell companies in offshore jurisdictions to secretly buy a 9.4 acres property called “Chateau Bigaud” in Mougins, near Cannes.
The findings were part of the Pandora Papers, an investigation into the offshore financial system based on a leak of 11.9 million records from 14 offshore financial services providers.
According to the leaked records, in late 2009, Babis injected $22 million into a British Virgin Islands company he owned called Blakey Finance Ltd. The funds were then transferred to a Babis company registered in Washington, D.C., that forwarded the funds to a Monaco subsidiary, SCP Bigaud.
The documents described the transfer from the Washington firm to the one in Monaco as a “back-to-back loan … directly for the final purpose of financing the Real Estate’s acquisition.”
Records obtained by Investigace.cz, ICIJ’s Czech partner, showed that neither the chateau nor the companies involved in its ownership appeared in asset declaration forms required of public officials under Czech law that Babis had filed since entering politics in 2013.
French investigators are examining the loan transaction which was not recorded in official French documents, Le Monde reported.
The use of offshore companies in tax havens and the secret loan are possible red flags for money laundering and an intent to conceal the origin of funds, according to the French daily. However, the alleged facts are old and may be time-barred.
Babis and his representatives did not respond to ICIJ’s request for comments on the French investigation. Babis, who also didn’t respond to reporters’ questions on the property deal last year, has publicly denied wrongdoing and said he did “nothing illegal or wrong.”
The Czech billionaire, who made his fortune running the Agrofert conglomerate, is the founder of a centrist political movement called ANO, Czech for “Yes” and an acronym that translates as “Action of Dissatisfied Citizens.”
He entered parliament in 2013 promising to fight unemployment and corruption and increase government transparency and tax revenues. He later served as finance minister before serving as prime minister between 2017 and 2021.
Last October, as the populist leader was contending with the Pandora Papers revelations , Babis’ centrist party ANO narrowly lost the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election.
One media poll suggested 8% of his party’s supporters switched their votes as a result of the disclosures by the ICIJ and its media partners.
The Pandora Papers investigation also revealed that, in 2010, Babis used yet another Monaco company to acquire a $6.7 million property near Chateau Bigaud.
In 2018 financial statements, SynBiol, one of Babis’ Czech companies, announced the acquisition of the two Monaco entities, listing them among its subsidiaries. In 2020, the Monaco companies were merged with a SynBiol subsidiary
A spokesman for the company told ICIJ at the time that SynBiol complied with tax laws and that “all transactions have been carried out in full compliance with applicable legislation.”
Czech media has reported that Babis is among the favored candidates in the Czech presidential election next year. He has not publicly announced a bid.