Feb 26, 2020 - World

Citing China fears, Rubio urges CFIUS review of AT&T media deal

Rubio. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has requested a government review of AT&T's pending sale of a European media company to a Czech financial firm, in a letter viewed by Axios.

Why it matters: The letter demonstrates growing concern on Capitol Hill over China-linked mergers and acquisitions involving American assets.

In the Feb. 26 letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Attorney General Bill Barr, Rubio urged a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) of AT&T's pending sale of its $1.1 billion stake in Central European Media Enterprises (CME Group) to PPF Group, the Czech firm.

In the letter, Rubio wrote that PPF and its CEO, Petr Kellner, "have a record of acting as China's proxies inside the Czech Republic."

  • "Mr. Kellner and his companies have supported China's malign activities abroad," he wrote.
  • "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."
  • Rubio also stated that "PPF has already used its expected acquisition of CME's Czech media outlets to intimidate Czech media and politicians into silence."

Between the lines: PPF was caught up in a major scandal last year.

  • Czech daily Aktuálně.cz uncovered a quiet network of proxies, funded by PPF via a PR firm, that worked behind the scenes to inject pro-China perspectives into Czech politics and media.

Czech analysts have sounded the alarm about the sale as well.

  • "The question we keep hearing from national security institutions is: If PPF did this in the small Czech Republic, how can we trust that they won’t do it in several NATO countries, where they will run a major TV station network as part of CME?" Jakub Janda, director of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague, told Axios.

Background: The Czech Republic has struggled against China's attempts to influence domestic politics and debate.

  • For several years, the Czech Republic was heavily beholden to Chinese oil conglomerate CEFC China Energy, which had close ties to Beijing and bought up media companies and real estate across the country.
  • Czech Republic President Miloš Zeman is known as very friendly to Beijing and has pushed the country to adopt Huawei as its 5G vendor.

Go deeper: Europe's loudest Huawei critic

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