Berliner Tageblatt - UK's Royal Mail buyout: Who is Czech billionaire Kretinsky?

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UK's Royal Mail buyout: Who is Czech billionaire Kretinsky?
UK's Royal Mail buyout: Who is Czech billionaire Kretinsky? / Photo: © AFP/File

UK's Royal Mail buyout: Who is Czech billionaire Kretinsky?

A billionaire with interests in football clubs, media outlets, supermarkets and now the potential new owner of Britain's Royal Mail, Czech Daniel Kretinsky retains a stubbornly low profile internationally.

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The 48-year-old made his fortune in the energy industry, where he controls one of Central Europe's largest groups, EPH.

But in recent years he has also become a major player in France's media scene and amassed a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at more than $9 billion.

His $4.6 billion takeover offer for Royal Mail was accepted by the postal service's board on Wednesday.

The deal is likely to push the reclusive billionaire further into the spotlight in Britain, where he already owned a stake in the postal service as well as 27 percent of Premier League football club West Ham.

His move into football brought scrutiny from British tabloids, which labelled him the "Czech Sphinx" and detailed his purchase of a London home for £65 million ($85 million) in 2015.

The newspapers also chronicled his relationship with Anna Kellnerova, a Czech showjumper 20 years his junior. The pair have since split up.

- Eastern stereotypes -

Kretinsky has otherwise kept his private life out of the headlines, though he has offered some insights into his business strategy.

He told Forbes in an interview last year that Britain, France and Germany were the most important countries for his company -- and he appreciated questions would be asked about him.

"It's always the same, when you appear, in the first place there's the stereotype called Eastern Europe," he said.

People immediately presumed some link to Russia, he said, which he felt was unfair given that his country had spent almost half a century under Soviet communist influence.

But he accepted the need to be more open about his businesses and claimed to have made efforts already in France.

"Media coverage of our activities is so big that we and I are being perceived as a part of their environment," he said.

Kretinsky apparently developed a love of France during a spell studying in the central city of Dijon and burst onto the business scene when he bought into prestigious media brands.

He owns a clutch of French magazines including the fashion bible Elle, bailed out the left-wing newspaper Liberation and owns a stake in the TF1 group.

- Internet 'chaos' -

Kretinsky was born in the eastern Czech city of Brno and raised during the slow collapse of communism.

He is known in his homeland for his energy interests, as well as ownership of football institution Sparta Prague.

His story is not exactly rags-to-riches -- his stepfather is a prominent art photographer and his mother served on the country's constitutional court between 2004 and 2014.

Colleagues and collaborators portray him as an extremely intelligent businessman and hard worker who often sends mails to staff in the early hours of the morning.

Jean-Michel Mazalerat, former head of GazelEnergie, a firm owned indirectly by Kretinsky, told AFP last year that growing up under communism could explain his media investments.

"When he says he is investing in freedom of the press, I believe he is very sincere," said Mazalerat.

Kretinsky echoed the sentiment in his Forbes interview, lamenting that internet content had descended into "complete chaos".

"Truth is ceasing to exist, because there is no one with the authority to decide that something is nonsense," he said.

"There's nothing democratic about this."

Y.Bouchard--BTB