Bakala continues slide down Czech wealth ranking while usual suspects hold firm

By bne IntelliNews October 5, 2016

The ongoing woes of controversial Czech financier and media mogul Zdenek Bakala are borne out by the Forbes 60 Richest Czechs 2016 list, released on October 5. However, the rest of the top spots remain held by the usual suspects, including perhaps the country's most powerful politician at number 2, and illustrate the close relations that persist between business and politics.

Former “coal baron” Bakala, hit by the collapse of miner OKD, slid one more place down the rankings to number seven in this year's list. Once a dollar billionaire, his assets are now estimated at around CZK20bn (around $826m), down CZK2bn from 2015, according to Forbes

The fall of Bakala has been accelerated by the fact that his dealings with one of the country's biggest employers have made him so unpopular as to be untouchable by any political figure. Amid ongoing campaigning for regional elections, the already universally unpopular oligarch was tarred by populist President Milos Zeman as a bogeyman of the liberal elite.

Petr Kellner, owner of PPF financial group, remains way out in front in the rankings, with around CZK255bn to his name, according to Forbe's estimate. That represents a CZK35bn increase year on year, partly driven by cheap loans amid record-low interest rates and robust Czech economic growth. Kellner is speculated to have major influence within the coalition leading Social Democrats. Meanwhile, his connections in China via his Home Credit Bank unit have seen him working closely with Zeman in the president's high profile push to increase business ties with Beijing.

Such potential for corruption is what second-placed Andrej Babis - finance minister and owner of conglomerate Agrofert - claimed had pushed him into starting his populist Ano party. The likely next PM saw his fortune swell by CZK6bn to hit CZK70bn. That's the sort of data that supported parliament's recent passing of conflict of interest legislation - dubbed “Lex Babis” - clamping down on company ownership by members of the government.

Third in the top 60 is Karel Komarek, the entrepreneur behind the KKCG investment group and the largest Czech oil and gas production company Moravske naftove doly. His assets moved up CZK8bn to CZK49bn, Forbes estimates. Komarek, however, was in a photo finish with fourth-placed CPI Property Group business chief Radovan Vitek. His assets were also recorded at CZK49bn, but compared to CZK47bn last year.

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