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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

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.

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