The consumer loans provider Home Credit, which is owned by Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, is facing scrutiny after reports it could have tried to create a positive image of China in the Czech Republic. In response, some politicians are calling for a special commission to look into the possible influence of authoritarian regimes on Czech affairs.
Last Tuesday the news site Aktuálně.cz reported that a PR agency called C&B Reputation Management had been hired by Home Credit to improve the image of the Chinese Communist regime in the Czech Republic.
The campaign, which according to documents leaked to Aktuálně.cz included some 2,000 hours of work by C&B from April to August 2019, revolved around helping those who supported the Chinese regime in the Czech media, while attacking the East Asian superpower’s critics.
Aktuálně.cz has pointed to the fact that Home Credit has lent out around CZK 300 billion in China. It is this vested interest that the Editor in Chief of Aktuálně.cz, Josef Pazderka, says could make the business dependent on Beijing’s whims.
“If you conduct business in these countries…you come under massive pressure. You have vast investments there and you do not want to lose them.
“The moment that someone comes around and says: ‘Ok, you can keep your lucrative business here, but you will do something in your home country for us’, you should be ready to refuse this offer, or at least be transparent about it. If you are not being open about it, you are of course under suspicion.
“We are not saying that this is necessarily the case. We just want to keep our eyes on this debate and let me remind you that Czech counterintelligence, and many other institutions, are raising awareness about this danger, especially in relation to Communist China.”
The PR agency’s documentation shows that Home Credit was secretly behind the creation and activities conducted by Sinoskop, a China focused institute seen by many as a counterweight to the generally China sceptic Sinopsis.
Furthermore, Aktuálně.cz pointed to the fact that the majority owner of C&B is Tomáš Jirsa, a former business partner of the spokesman of Peter Kellner’s investment group PPF. Mr Jirsa was also one of the directors of the company behind the Czech news site Info.cz. He resigned from the latter shortly after the claims were published.
Home Credit has denied the allegations, calling them a targeted, broad and long-term campaign that includes aspects breaching criminal law.
Speaking on Czech Television, the head of the Pirate Party’s deputies group, Jakub Michálek, said that the Chamber of Deputies should discuss the establishment of a special investigative commission that would assess the influence of authoritarian regimes on Czech affairs.
“If it degenerates into foreign companies from totalitarian states buying campaigns in the Czech Republic, then I think it can be a real threat to the functioning of our democracy.”
For his part, lower house speaker Radek Vondráček believes it would be better if the country’s security services conducted such an investigation.
“From my experience with investigative commissions, it will neither be able to confirm or disprove any such suspicion.”
It is not the first time that such a proposal has been put forward. In November last year some 40 members of the lower house indicated they would be in favour of such a move.
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