Anonymous Attacks Billionaire Czech Finance Minister over Online Gambling Laws

Posted on: August 2, 2016, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: August 2, 2016, 05:44h.

Andrej Babis attacked by Anonymous over online gambling.
Andrej Babis, the billionaire Czech deputy PM and finance minister, has been called the Czech Donald Trump. Hacktivist collective Anonymous has taken exception to his online gambling regulations. (Image: hir.ma)

Anonymous, the left-wing “hacktivist” collective, attacked online divisions of the food and agriculture empire belonging to Andrej Babis, the billionaire Czech finance minister and deputy prime minister, this week, in protests over the country’s new online gambling laws.

Specifically, Anonymous was targeting internet censorship, as the Czech Republic’s new gambling regime, introduced at the end of last month, contains provisions to blacklist non-licensed gambling sites.

This is creating the possibility of future ISP-blocking in the Central European state.

“The Finance Ministry led by Andrej Babis gets almost limitless power to censor the internet. It is time to move against it,” Anonymous said in a video posted on YouTube.

According to Czech news agency Lupa.cz, the group took down two of Babis’ websites on Monday evening, including that of his holding company, Agrofert.

“The Czech Donald Trump”

Babis is the country’s second-richest man and founder of the ANO 2011 party (YES 2011), which finished second in the Czech general elections of 2013, permitting him to form a coalition government with the incumbent Christian Democrat Party.

He has been accused, variously, of being an ex-Soviet secret policeman, a post-Communist oligarch and the Czech Donald Trump.

Babis swept to power (-sharing) on a populist platform that promised to fight the widespread corruption he perceived to be endemic in his country’s politics. He has placed increased emphasis on fighting tax fraud and improving collection methods in order to boost state revenue.

This includes his online gaming regulations, which were approved by the Czech legislature by an emphatic 42-0 vote. The regulations seek to open up the market to foreign operators, but its tax rates are unlikely to have many companies lining up to apply for licenses.

Unworkable Taxation

Initial proposals of a 40 percent tax rate on gross gaming revenue were eventually amended to 35 percent, on top of a 19 percent corporate tax rate. The system would be unworkable for online gambling operators who would have no choice but to shut the Czech Republic out of their operations if they wish to comply with EU law. This means that Czech citizens are likely to continue to bet an estimated $6 billion per year on the black market but not through trusted sites.

The regulations also include a provision that prevents online poker bets from exceeding 1,000 Czech Koruna ($40.98), while winnings in any specific game, including tournaments, are capped at 50,000 Czech Koruna ($2,049).  

“We only want to apply rules used by 18 [EU] countries already,” Babis told Reuters in response to the Anonymous attacks. “Nobody wants to censor the internet. It is aimed against gambling companies that do not pay taxes.”

Babis said he would file a criminal complaint, while Anonymous said the attacks would continue until the new law was revoked.