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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

48 mins ago - Sports

China pulls Celtics games after Enes Kanter criticizes Xi Jinping

Celtics center Enes Kanter. Photo: Jim Michaud/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

China will no longer stream Boston Celtics games after center Enes Kanter called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "brutal dictator" in a social media post over the Chinese government's repressive policies in Tibet, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: Kanter's criticism of Beijing has sparked another round of trouble for the NBA in China, one of its largest and most restrictive markets.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump's new venture could be peak SPAC

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Former President Trump last night announced plans to launch a digital media network called "Truth Social," and said it would go public via a SPAC called Digital World Acquisition (Nasdaq: DWAC).

What to know: So far, this is a joke. The press release didn't contain even basic information, such as the new company's CEO. In fact, the only execs mentioned are Trump (as chairman) and veteran TV producer Scott St. John as head of a subscription streaming service.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Tesla is outrunning the supply chain crunch

Expand chart
Data: FactSet and company release; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Tesla, citing a "structural shift" in demand for electric vehicles, reported its highest-ever quarterly profit of $1.6 billion and $13.8 billion in revenues despite supply chain problems.

The big picture: The company's third-quarter report says the chip shortage, port congestion and other woes have affected its factories but argues that "flexibility" and "ingenuity" are a counterweight.

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