Czech billionaire Komarek reported to have failed to sever business ties with Russia
Czech lottery and energy billionaire Karel Komarek has failed to sever his business ties to Russia, despite promising to do so as part of his winning bid to take over the British National Lottery licence, reported UK news website Tortoise Media.
Komarek's Allwyn lottery operator won the National Lottery operating license in March 2022, shortly after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, despite extensive ties with Russia's Gazprom. Russia's gas giant and several of its key figures are on the UK’s sanction list.
As part of its bid, Komarek's KKCG holding company said it would shortly end its gas storage joint venture with Gazprom in the Czech Republic, Tortoise reported. Komarek and Allwyn also publicly condemned Putin’s war as senseless, brutal and barbaric.
Senior executives from the Gambling Commission, which ran the National Lottery licence competition for the government, told the UK's parliamentary committee that oversaw the competition on 30 June 2022 that they expected Komarek to divest from the Gazprom joint venture within days. They also told the MPs Komárek had already divested from the Samara oil terminal.
However, company records and a statement from Komarek’s lawyers at Schillings state that he divested from the oil terminal in the Samara region on 19 September 2022, ie. half a year after winning the National Lottery licence and seven months after the invasion of Ukraine. The divestment was by means of selling the oil terminal to a recently-former employee of Komarek.
Moreover, more than 18 months after winning the lottery license, KKCG has still not left or removed Gazprom from its joint venture Moravian Gas Storage, consisting of an energy terminal in Damborice in the Czech Republic.
Komárek’s representatives said that he’d divest from the joint venture before or shortly after the competition by selling his half to the Czech government, Tortoise reports.
Lawyers for Komárek now say the plan is to dilute Gazprom’s shareholding from 50 to 3 per cent by issuing new shares for him to buy. But this hasn’t happened yet – and hasn’t even received regulatory approval.
Therefore there is a possibility that Komarek started to make a profit from selling lottery tickets while still linked to Gazprom.
“That would be astonishing because the [House of Commons] select committee would have been misled, whether inadvertently or not,” Clive Efford MP, who sits on the parliamentary committee, was quoted as saying by Tortoise.
“We would have to investigate, but I think that that really does raise questions that need to be answered,” Efford added.
Tortoise also recalled that Komarek has recently made headlines in connection with intelligence company Hakluyt accidentally sending Komarek a story about his father allegedly hiring a Ukrainian hitman to murder his business partner, a Slovak politician and that the Komareks had forced the man to sign over assets worth millions of pounds.
The Komareks say unequivocally that the allegations were “entirely false” and that they were never contacted by any police or any investigative authorities about them.
Komarek is the third richest Czech, according to the Forbes list of billionaires, with $8.1bn.
Komarek grouped his lottery assets in Greece, Italy, Austria and the United Kingdom under the Allwyn brand last year. Komarek rose in the lottery business shortly after the 2012 takeover of Czech lottery behemoth Sazka, which had gone bankrupt.
Leading Czech investment firms, such as PPF, competed over Sazka’s assets during its bankruptcy. Czech media reported last August that PPF also invested CZK6.5bn into Allwyn in exchange for 5% shares and assistance to list Allwyn in the USA.
Damborice facility is one of the most modern underground gas storage facilities in Europe, and its construction was commenced in 2013 following the establishment of the Moravian Gas Storage JV. Its overall capacity is 448mn cubic meters.
In August 2022, the government seized half of its capacity, or 242mn cubic meters according to Czech TV, after amending the country’s Energy Act, enabling authorities to seize unused gas capacities in gas storage facilities across the country in an effort to brace the country for the winter months of the energy crisis.
Komarek’s umbrella group, KKCG, still lists Damborice as a KKCG asset on its website.
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