PRAGUE — The Czech national police announced Monday that it will “act upon” the Pandora Papers, as the revelations emerged as an election campaign issue in the country and a potential challenge for Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is up for reelection this week.
The documents revealed Sunday show that in 2009 he purchased a $22 million chateau near Cannes, France, with a cinema and two swimming pools, using shell companies that hid the identity of its new owner, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which shared the trove of documents with The Washington Post and other media partners around the globe.
In a tweet Monday, the Czech police department said its inquiries would go beyond the prime minister and include “all citizens of the Czech Republic who are mentioned.” The statement added, “We won’t provide more information.”
Babis suggested Sunday on Twitter that the Pandora Papers revelations about him are part of an effort to “influence the Czech election,” and he said he had done nothing “illegal or wrong.” Speaking on Czech television Sunday night, he said: “I paid all the taxes. This is completely absurd.”
“The money was sent from a Czech bank; it was my money, it was taxed, and then it came back to a Czech bank. I categorically deny [the allegations],” he said.
But his political opponents are demanding more transparency from the prime minister. “This is showing signs of corruption to the core,” Ivan Bartos, chairman of the Pirate Party, said on Czech television Sunday night. The chairman of the right-wing Civic Democratic Party, Petr Fiala, called it “a giant international scandal” and “a huge problem that the prime minister will have to explain.”
“For him, it is a big problem,” agreed Milos Brunclik, a political analyst at the Czech Republic’s Charles University, speaking to The Post. “After all, he repeatedly portrayed himself as a fighter against nontransparent offshore business.”
In Czech TV talk shows, for example, Babis has frequently emphasized that he and his companies pay taxes in the Czech Republic, said Jiri Pehe, the director of New York University, Prague.
“This of course puts him in a different light,” Pehe said.
Babis is only a few percentage points ahead of a rival alliance in recent polls, and the “Pandora Papers revelations may discourage some undecided voters who have been considering voting for Mr. Babis,” Brunclik said.
But the full impact of the revelations on the election campaign remains uncertain. The Czech president, who largely holds ceremonial powers, could appoint Babis as the next prime minister even if Babis does not hold a parliamentary majority.
Brunclik added that the prime minister has survived other political crises in the past, partially by deflecting criticism and portraying it as part of a concerted campaign to force his departure from Czech politics.
Babis appeared to follow the same script on Sunday night, when he attacked the media outlets involved in the Pandora Papers, saying: “This is not an international consortium. This is the work of our [Czech] mafia.” He called one of the ICIJ partners, the Guardian newspaper, a “left-wing, neo-Marxist and pro-migration” publication.
His response to the reports on Sunday came after the ICIJ and several of its media partners had unsuccessfully asked for comment on the 2009 purchase. After several outlets sent questions to the prime minister’s press spokesperson, the ICIJ said the press accreditations of three partner outlets for a campaign event were revoked.
Babis also ignored questions by a reporter working with a Czech ICIJ partner outlet, with a security guard elbowing her and telling her: “Go away!”
Noack reported from Paris.