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Czech billionaire Babis's media assets sold ahead of new law

Czech former PM Andrej Babis meets with supporters in Benesov

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The media business controlled by Czech billionaire and opposition leader Andrej Babis is being sold to investor Karel Prazak, the two parties said on Friday, ahead of new legislation that bans politicians from owning some news and TV assets.

Agrofert, controlled by Babis through trust funds, has agreed to sell its media businesses MAFRA and LONDA and a chemicals firm to Czech-based Prazak, the two sides said in a statement but did not disclose financial details.

MAFRA and LONDA are major players in the Czech media with assets including national newspapers Mlada fronta Dnes and Lidove Noviny, as well as one of the largest radio stations, significant online businesses and print works.

Opponents have frequently criticised Babis, prime minister from 2017-2021 and still leader of his ANO party, for using his media assets to his political advantage, which he has denied.

Babis put Agrofert, a sprawling empire of media, chemicals, farming and food processing firms, into trust funds in 2017 to comply with conflict of interest rules at the time.

Those rules have been further tightened under legislation approved by the current ruling centre-right majority and due to come into effect next January. The new law bans members of parliament and government from owning some types of media even through trust funds or related persons. ANO, the largest faction in the lower house of parliament, opposed the legislation.

The sale announced on Friday also included chemicals producer Synthesia, Agrofert said.

"The sale of these assets will allow us to focus more on our key business segments in the future, to develop them more quickly," Agrofert Chairman Zbynek Prusa said in a statement.

Prazak owns chemicals, real estate and other assets worth 33 billion crowns ($1.49 billion) through his investment vehicle KAPRAIN, according to its website.

KAPRAIN said in the statement that Synthesia would bring synergies to its existing chemicals portfolio.

Prazak told daily Hospodarske Noviny on Friday that the future of the media business was open, including possible further sale.

($1 = 22.1790 Czech crowns)

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Susan Fenton)