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A chemical company that forms part of a conglomerate founded by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is poised to get approval for continuing to produce a dangerous substance, despite protests from environmental groups.

The company, DEZA, has also made liberal use of the courts in protecting its business — suing the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) numerous times over attempts to regulate chemicals it produces or release information about their safety.

Environmental NGOs say DEZAs business model is “producing very toxic, and obsolete, chemicals,” and then “using legal challenges to further delay legal action.”

The company denies doing anything wrong. DEZA said in a statement that “we strongly disagree with … speculation about slowing down the regulation.” It said that in filing the cases, “DEZA used its unalienable right before the court.”

The chemical is linked to damage in reproductive systems, lungs and kidneys, as well as potentially contributing to a drop in male fertility over the past few decades.

But those efforts have slowed attempts to ban a chemical called DEHP, of which DEZA is the largest producer in Europe. It was one of the first substances to be slated for a ban under the EUs chemical regime in October 2008. A decade later, DEZA, is still legally producing the chemical, and its application to extend permission is pending.

Two sources said a European Commission body plans to grant DEZA the authorization it wants in December.

A flexible chemical

DEHP is widely used in plastics to make them more flexible, including in consumer products like furniture and faux-leather shoes, as well as in things like PVC pipes and paints. The chemical is linked to damage in reproductive systems, lungs and kidneys, as well as potentially contributing to a drop in male fertility over the past few decades.

It was added to a list of “substances of very high concern” in 2008, meaning the EU planned to eventually take it off the market. In 2013 it was deemed subject to “authorization” — so only companies that applied for explicit permission could keep using it, and then only for a set period of time, as long as they proved there were no alternatives.

A few companies applied for continued use at the time, but now only DEZA plans to keep using DEHP. The companys application has been stuck in limbo since it was submitted in 2013, partly because of a legal case it filed.

NGOs requested access to documents on the chemicals risks submitted by DEZA as part of its application. When ECHA agreed to release the documents, the company sued.

What makes DEZAs case different from a run-of-the-mill chemicals company seeking authorization is its connection to the highest level of political power in the Czech Republic.

The decision on authorization was put on hold until the court case was decided, which happened in January 2017, when the EUs General Court ruled against the company.

Today DEZAs authorization application is still pending, which means the company is still legally producing DEHP. According to an analysis by NGO ClientEarth, this is the second-longest delay of any authorization application ever filed.

This is not the only time DEZA has taken legal action against regulation. It has sued ECHA six times, twice individually and four times as part of a group application.

“DEZA always uses all available measures … to secure their business, and I am not talking only about DEHP,” Jan Freidinger of Greenpeace Czech said in an email. He added that DEZA is a common offender on NGO Arnikas list of top polluters in the Czech Republic.

DEZA said it is “running its business properly and in accordance with Czech, as well as European law.”

A powerful founder

What makes DEZAs case different from a run-of-the-mill chemicals company seeking authorization is its connection to the highest level of political power in the Czech Republic.

Babiš became prime minister last year after a three-year stint as finance minister. He founded Agrofert, DEZAs parent company, and through it became one of his countrys richest men.

Hes no longer the formal owner of company, but watchdog group Transparency International complained to the European Commission last month that Babiš is violating EU conflict-of-interest rules by remaining the “founder and 100% end-user of benefits” of the two trusts overseeing the firm.

Babiš told POLITICO at the time that the complaint is based on lies and that “I fully respect the law.”

NGOs complain that Babišs political power is a cause for concern when deciding on an issue like DEZAs request.

Two sources said the REACH committee plans to grant DEZAs authorization request, which isnt unusual — of some 300 applications for authorization, none have ever been denied.

In chemicals cases, the initial request for authorization goes to committees within ECHA, which issued a positive recommendation.

Matti Vainio, the head of unit at ECHA responsible for authorization applications, said he is not even aware of the companys link to Babiš and that members of ECHA committees dont represent the interests of their home countries.

The final decision on authorization is then made by the EUs REACH committee, which is overseen by the European Commission and made up of member country representatives.

Two sources said the REACH committee plans to grant DEZAs authorization request, which isnt unusual — of some 300 applications for authorization, none have ever been denied.

When asked about DEZA, Babiš replied to POLITICO in a text message that he has “nothing in common” with Agrofert any longer. “If youd like to ask a question about this company, please ask there,” he said.

When asked specifically whether he thought his position in government was a factor in discussions on whether to grant DEZA authorization, he responded: “Do you speak English?! I dont have any company anymore!!”

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