Billionaires Kretinsky and Tkac face UK security scrutiny over Royal Mail shares

Billionaires Kretinsky and Tkac face UK security scrutiny over Royal Mail shares
The security review is bound to look into Daniel Kretinsky's relationship with the Russian gas industry, given EPH's close links with Gazprom. / EPH
By Albin Sybera August 29, 2022

The UK is to hold a national security review into the ownership of Royal Mail as the largest shareholder, Vesa Equity Investment of Daniel Kretinsky and Patrik Tkac, looks set to increase its shareholding above 25%. 

“The secretary of state has notified Royal Mail that such a step would constitute a trigger event under the National Security and Investment Act”, reads Royal Mail’s statement.

With 22%, Vesa is the largest shareholder in Royal Mail. The National Security and Investment Act came into force earlier this year, giving the government greater power where questions of national security could be involved.  

Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky controls 50% plus 1 share in Vesa and Slovak billionaire Patrik Tkac 44% plus one share, with the remaining 6% controlled by the management of EPH, Kretinsky’s flagship energy company. 

The security review is bound to look into Kretinsky's relationship with the Russian gas industry, given EPH's close links with Gazprom, as well as longstanding (but never corroborated) rumours that J&T has Russian links. Kretinsky appeared in the Panama Papers and his use of offshore structures has been criticized by Czech media in the past. 

Tkac is the Vice Chairman of the Slovak J&T Finance Group, whose shareholders are J&T’s co-founder Ivan Jakabovic (45.05%), Tkac’s father Jozef (45.05%), and Chinese CITIC Group with 9.90%. 

Kretinsky had himself begun his career in finance with J&T where he later became partner and, with the help of J&T and Czech-based PPF financial group, set up EPH in 2009, where he was also joined by his lifetime business partner Patrik Tkac. 

Referring to its revenue results for 2021 EPH, described itself in June as the largest Czech company, surpassing Skoda Auto (of VW Group) and majority-state-owned energy utility CEZ.           

According to the recent study carried out by Ember think tank, EPH, together with other key energy conglomerates in the country, CEZ and Sev.En, are among the least climate friendly companies in the EU not reflecting the spirit of the Glasgow climate summit.  EPH has set 2050 as its goal for achieving carbon neutrality. 

More recently, EPH came under close media attention for its large gas import infrastructure, making it one of the largest Russian gas importers into Europe through its arm Eustream in which the Slovak state also has a 51% share, but EPH exercises managerial control. 

Moody’s and Fitch Ratings have lowered their ratings for EPH and EP Infrastructure, EPH’s pipeline infrastructure unit, warning against their dependence on Gazprom payments.   

“Eustream would go down first” if  a complete halt of gas from Russia were to occur, energy analyst energy analyst Jan Osicka told Denik Referendum in May. 

Besides Royal Mail, Kretinsky and Tkac are also major shareholders in footwear retailer Foot Locker, UK grocer Sainsbury's, Dutch PostNL and German wholesaler Metro AG,  and they are both also involved in one of the top Czech football clubs, AS Sparta Praha. Last year Kretinsky entered West Ham with a potential for a full takeover.   

Kretinsky is often referred to as the “Czech Sphinx” in the British press for his careful avoidance of publicity, reminiscent of another of his long-term business partners, Petr Kellner, the late founder of PPF. He has built a media empire in the Czech Republic and also has a minority shareholding in French daily Le Monde.

Kretinsky is in a relationship with Kellner’s daughter Anna and since May he is on the PPF’s Advisory Board to Family, set up after PPF underwent a period of changes in the management following Kellner’s death in a heliskiing accident. 

Kretinsky’s ex-partner Klara Cetlova is the Deputy Minister of Justice responsible for overseeing the judiciary. She became deputy minister under Marie Benesova, whose 2019 appointment by populist billionaire and ex-premier Babis ignited the largest protests the country had seen since 1989. She has remained deputy minister after Babis’ government was replaced last year by a five-party centre-right government under Prime Minister Petr Fiala. 

Czech business insiders’ website reported that Kretinsky and Cetlova had invested into a construction company from northern Bohemia specialising in road and ground infrastructure.