If you thought the sale of Central European Media Enterprises (CME) to PPF Group was a done deal think again.
Announced last October and worth $2.1 billion, it was at that time still required to meet certain conditions, including the approval of CME shareholders, the EC and national regulators in several countries. Now this week we have learned that the US Senator Marco Rubio has asked for it to be investigated by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS). In his view, such an investigation is warranted as CME is a subsidiary of a US company (AT&T) and the sale will undermine US national security interests in Central and Eastern Europe.
Moreover, it will be to the benefit of China, which Rubio claims to be working through the Czech Republic’s PPF Group, owned by the billionaire Petr Kellner, to extend its influence in Central and Eastern Europe. He also says that “PPF has already used its expected acquisition of CME’s Czech media outlets to intimidate Czech media and politicians into silence”.
These are indeed serious allegations and it should come as no surprise that PPF Group has issued a strong response. In it the company says that Senator Rubio “is relying on false information provided by the Czech politician Pavel Fischer” and identifies factual inaccuracies such as CME operating in markets covering 90 million people (the actual figure is around half) and PPF propagating Huawei technology (PPF inherited it as part of the acquisition of Telenor’s operations in CEE two years ago).
The statement also goes on to say that PPF is buying CME as a complement to its telco business and with no ulterior motives. Furthermore, it is cooperating with all the relevant regulatory bodies and will contact Senator Rubio to provide him with accurate information about the company.
Although it has been reported by the Czech news agency CTK that CME’s shareholders have now approved the sale to PPF, we are unlikely to have heard the last of what is becoming an increasingly controversial deal.