PRAGUE, Czech Republic—Czech credit company Home Credit, which is owned by local billionaire Petr Kellner, funded a public relations campaign to improve the image of the Chinese regime in the country, according to documents leaked to Czech daily Aktuálne.cz.
The report, published on Dec. 10, 2019, was based on invoices from PR agency C&B Reputation Management, which was hired by Home Credit.
The PR agency was tasked with influencing media, public debate, and politicians.
In addition to promoting positive messages about China, the PR campaign also attacked critics of the Chinese regime.
Aktualne.cz also found out that the PR agencys campaign, paid by billionaire Petr Kellners Home Credit, also focused on politicians. In September 2019, a conference was organized by a member of the ODS Party, where Prague lawmakers criticized the citys mayor for canceling a sister city agreement with Beijing.
On Dec. 14, 2019, Home Credit published a press release in response to the Aktualne.cz article.
The company denied the allegations, insisting its activities were “business, not political.”
“Home Credit, with full responsibility, declares that it has never hired or inquired in the Czech Republic about any lobbying or communication PR services aimed at promoting the interests of any foreign country,” the press release said.
Home Credit is owned by Kellners investment firm PPF, which entered the Chinese credit market in 2007.
According to business publication Ekonom, PPF earned more than 2 billion euros (about $2.2 billion) in China in 2017. Some Czech politicians and experts believe PPF came under political pressure from the Chinese regime to promote its interests in the Czech Republic.
In October 2019, PPF signed a purchase agreement to buy Central European Media Enterprises (CME), which owns TV NOVA, one of the largest television stations in the Czech Republic in addition to TV stations in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. It has a reach of 45 million viewers. In light of the information published by Aktualne.cz, the purchase of TV NOVA raises the question of whether Kellner and his PPF will influence broadcasting in favor of the Chinese regime.
This contract, costing about $2.1 billion, must be approved by the shareholders of CME, the European Commission, and national regulators in some of the countries where CME operates.
Influencing Public Discussion
According to documents published by Aktualne.cz, during the period from April to August 2019, C&B itemized a total of almost 2,000 hours of work.
The itemized list of services rendered included PPF clandestinely organizing the establishment the Sinoskop Institute for Contemporary China through Home Credit, a think tank that promoted opinions downplaying the Chinese regimes human rights violations.
The institute was officially established in June 2019 by sinologist Vít Vojta, who has also worked as an interpreter for Czech politicians and presidents traveling to China, including current Czech President Miloš Zeman.
Through the work for Sinoskop, Vojta appeared as an independent China expert in the Czech mass media, giving interviews and writing commentary.
The PR agency invoiced Home Credit for the activities of Vojta and other Czech commentators on China issues.
How much Home Credit paid to PR agency remains unclear. The documents published by Aktualne.cz contain the number of hours worked, but not the hourly rate.
PPF operates in five Chinese provinces. In 2012, the company entered the Chinese finance sector.
Czech billionaire Kellner amassed his wealth by acquiring property during the fall of the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989 and in the 1990s during the countrys early years.
Today, Petr Kellner is the richest Czech and, according to Forbes, is the 73rd richest man in the world, worth $15.5 billion.
Some believe PPFs business interests in the country pRead More – Source