Sen. Rubio Urges National Security Review of Deal Between AT&T, Czech Firm, Citing China Concerns

February 27, 2020 Updated: February 27, 2020
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A U.S. senator has requested that the government review AT&T’s pending sale of its stake in a European media company to a Czech investment firm, because of the Czech company’s links to the Chinese communist regime.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in a Feb. 26 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Attorney General William Barr, urged a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to consider the national security implications of AT&T’s pending $1.1 billion sale to PPF Group of its stake in Central European Media Enterprises (CME Group). The sale was announced last November.

CFIUS, a U.S. interagency panel that’s chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury, reviews mergers, acquisitions, and stock purchases to ensure they don’t harm U.S. national security.

Rubio said in the letter that PPF Group and its chief executive officer, Petr Kellner, “have a record of acting as China’s proxies inside the Czech Republic.”

The claim was based on revelations made by Czech online daily newspaper Aktualne.cz that PPF funded a public relations firm to improve the Chinese regime’s image among Czech media, politicians, and the public.

“This work included spying on Czech politicians, pressuring media to withdraw news articles critical of China, and creating a new think-tank, Sinoskop, to employ biased analysts to influence public debate,” Rubio wrote.

He noted that about a third of PPF’s profits come from its subsidiary Home Credit, an individual lending business in China. According to business publication Ekonom, PPF earned more than 2 billion euros (about $2.2 billion) in China in 2017.

As a result, “Mr. Kellner and his companies have supported China’s malign activities abroad,” Rubio wrote.

“It has come to my attention that PPF has already used its expected acquisition of CME’s Czech media outlets to intimidate Czech media and politicians into silence,” he said.

CME has 30 channels that reach about 45 million viewers across five countries: the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.

The senator said the United States has an “interest in preserving a free and open media environment overseas as well as preventing the Chinese Communist Party from subverting these platforms in its efforts to undermine democratic norms worldwide.”

The Justice Department and Treasury Department didn’t immediately respond to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

The Chinese regime has ramped up efforts in recent years to influence public perceptions abroad through its state-run media and by directly or indirectly injecting its propaganda and narrative into foreign media outlets.

In 2013, CFIUS reportedly blocked a deal by Phoenix TV to buy two Los Angeles radio stations. Phoenix TV is a Hong Kong-based broadcaster owned by a former Chinese military officer and has close ties to Beijing officials.

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