Czech minister resigns two days before confidence vote

Prague (AFP) –


The Czech centre-left cabinet of billionaire Andrej Babis lost a member two days ahead of a parliamentary confidence vote after the justice minister from his own party resigned over plagiarism allegations.

Tatana Mala, 36, told reporters she was stepping down amid "a disgusting smear campaign" after only 13 days in cabinet, following media allegations that she had copied parts of her two master's theses from 2005 and 2011.

"We really need a cabinet with confidence and I don't want to stand in the way," said Mala, who studied agricultural engineering and law.

Babis, who is himself facing police charges over EU subsidy fraud, said he would ask President Milos Zeman to temporarily put him in charge of the justice ministry.

Having failed to put together a viable cabinet after his ANO movement took last October's general election by storm with an anti-corruption ticket, Babis teamed up with the leftwing Social Democrats to form a minority cabinet named by Zeman on June 27.

The two parties have 93 seats in the 200-member parliament and need the backing of the Communists who have 15 seats.

The Communists have vowed informal support in exchange for positions in large state-owned enterprises, gaining a role in government, albeit an informal one, for the first time since the Communist regime fell in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989.

The cabinet also has another vacant post, at the foreign ministry, after Zeman refused to name Social Democrat Miroslav Poche, with the job temporarily taken by party chairman and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek.

The pro-Russian, pro-Chinese, anti-Muslim Zeman has slammed Poche over corruption allegations from the past and his tolerant stance on migrants.

Pundits have said the real reason was Poche's support for Zeman's rival in January's presidential vote, in which the 73-year-old ex-Communist narrowly won a second five-year term.

Babis's first attempt to form a cabinet after the October election ended in January when his minority government of ANO members and unaffiliated experts lost a confidence vote.

Last autumn, police charged Babis -- a food, chemicals and media tycoon and the second wealthiest Czech -- with EU subsidy fraud to the tune of two million euros ($2.4 million).

The Slovak-born entrepreneur, who was a Communist Party member in the 1980s, has also been dogged by allegations that he served as a Communist secret police agent before 1989. Babis has denied any wrongdoing.