Czech Television (ČT) does not have to apologize to the Agrofert Group for associating it in two reports with the dismissal of the director of the Příbram tax office. The Prague City Court today dismissed the lawsuit, in which the company claimed that the reports had damaged its reputation. The spokeswoman for the court, Markéta Puci, told ČTK. The verdict is not final, it can be appealed against to the High Court in Prague.
Agrofert’s lawsuit concerned reports called Dvojí metr and Dvojí metr II, which were broadcast by television on the ČT Reporters program in September and October last year. The trailer for the first report read: “He assessed the tax on Agrofert. He finished as director. A double meter of financial administration.” According to the company, the television “linked the tax assessment of Primagra as, which belongs to the Agrofert Group, in a misleading and manipulative manner, with information that Mr. Karel Trefný had to end up as the director of the Tax Office in Příbram.” According to her, it affected her reputation.
However, Judge Monika Vacková stated several times during the hearing that the public had associated some of the state’s actions with society before. The only shareholder of Agrogert at the time of the reports was Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO), who at the same time held the position of Minister of Finance. “A company’s shareholder has to consider whether he will become finance minister. So when Agrofert’s sole shareholder was finance minister, wasn’t Agrofert and the state connected? Can’t a public service journalist afford to think and say that?” stated at the first meeting.
Trefný appeared in Czech Television reports, and his office added 1.5 million crowns to Primagra’s VAT. The man was transferred to Prague shortly afterwards, which he described as bullying, and the judiciary subsequently ruled in his favor. After winning a dispute with the financial administration, he returned to work in Příbram, but only as an ordinary official. According to ČT’s lawyer, the reports were correct and there was nothing in them saying that Agrofert was coordinating the operation of the financial administration.
In 2017, Babiš invested its shares in trust funds due to a conflict of interest law. However, according to an audit by the European Commission, it remains interested in the economic success of Agrofert and also has an impact on trust funds. Due to this, the Czech Republic is in danger of losing EU subsidies in the order of several hundred million crowns. The European Parliament passed a resolution in mid-June stating that Babiš questioned the independent performance of his office. The politician denies any conflict of interest.