Senator Rubio requests US review of sale of AT&T unit to a Czech conglomerate

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio asked the Trump administration on Wednesday to review the national security implications of the proposed sale of its majority stake in Central European Media Group Enterprises (CME) to the Czech conglomerate PPF Group.

Rubio, a Republican, chairman of the bipartisan and bicameral Congress Executive Committee for China, wrote that the Czech company has been shown to act as “China’s proxy in the Czech Republic” and added that PPF’s own telecommunications company is working with Huawei Technologies Co 5G- To develop networks.

The CME group operates in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia and reaches around 97 million people. It has some of the most watched news programs in Central and Eastern Europe, said Rubio, who is also a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Secret Service committees.

AT&T did not respond immediately.

PPF said in a statement that Rubio apparently relied on “wrong information” from a Czech politician and contested its characterization of the CME market. The company said it only inherited Huawei’s technology last year when it acquired Norwegian telecommunications operator Telenor.

“PPF buys CME as a complement to its telecommunications business without any ulterior motives. As part of the acquisition of CME, the PPF Group works with all relevant regulatory authorities and provides them with all the information they need.” The company said it would reach Rubio.

Rubio said PPF subsidiary Home Credit hired a public relations firm that aimed to “manipulate Czech public opinion towards China cheaply. This work included spying on Czech politicians, withdrawing media pressure, China-critical articles , and the creation of a new think tank. Sinoscope to employ biased analysts to influence public debate. “

He urged the United States ‘Foreign Investment Committee to review the transaction because it “undermines the United States’ national security interests in Central and Eastern Europe and China.”

The Trump administration put Huawei on an economic blacklist in May, citing national security concerns, and urged foreign governments not to let Huawei participate in 5G networks.

In October, AT&T announced it would sell its majority stake in CME, receive $ 1.1 billion in cash, and be exempt from a $ 575 million debt guarantee. AT&T acquired its stake in CME with the acquisition of Time Warner, now WarnerMedia, in 2018.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by David Gregorio and Richard Pullin)

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