Czech billionaire says closing in on cabinet deal

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Prague (AFP)

Czech billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday he was closing in on a coalition cabinet deal after crunch talks with the leftwing Social Democrats (CSSD) following inconclusive elections in October.

"I think we'll be done by Friday," he said after talks with Social Democrats chairman Jan Hamacek.

"Everything has been resolved at our end," said Hamacek, adding that his party as a whole would give the final yes or no early next month.

Babis said he expected a clear response from the CSSD by June 10 and a confidence vote on the future cabinet by the end of June.

Campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, Babis's ANO (YES) movement won 78 out of 200 seats in October's general election.

But Babis, who has been charged with EU subsidy fraud, has so far failed to form a coalition as potential partners have turned their backs on him over the charges.

His previous attempt ended with a minority government of ANO members and unaffiliated experts failing to win a parliamentary confidence vote in January.

Babis then secured the go-ahead for a second attempt from President Milos Zeman, his political ally.

In the meantime, his minority cabinet is allowed to rule without confidence until a new team is named.

With just 93 parliamentary seats between them, the ANO-CSSD coalition will need the informal support of the Communists, who have 15 seats and have said they are willing to cooperate.

Police have charged Babis, a food, chemicals and media tycoon and the second wealthiest Czech, over an alleged EU subsidy fraud worth two million euros ($2.4 million).

The Slovak-born entrepreneur is also dogged by allegations that he served as a Communist secret police agent before the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing.