UK to review Czech billionaire’s plan to raise Royal Mail stake

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Britain is using new powers to examine whether a plan by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky to increase his stake in Royal Mail to more than 25 percent would be in the national interest, the postal company said on Thursday.

Vesa Equity, ultimately controlled by Kretinsky and his business partner Patrik Tkac, said separately it had voluntarily contacted the government to inform it of its intention to increase its stake in Royal Mail, currently just over 22 percent.

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Royal Mail’s stock, a pandemic darling thanks to a boom in demand for parcels amid lockdowns, has been under pressure recently after the company warned of losses at its UK operations as postal workers’ strikes loomed.

More than 115,000 Royal Mail workers are due to strike over pay on Aug. 26 and 31, followed by two more days of stoppages early next month, in possibly Britain’s biggest strike this summer.

Royal Mail said it had been notified by Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS), that he was exercising his powers to look into Vesa’s proposals under the National Security and Investment Act.

The act came into force this year to give the government greater say over deals where national interests might be involved.

Royal Mail and Vesa Equity, which is already the company’s top shareholder, both said they would cooperate with the review.

The department for BEIS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The review comes days after the government said it would not take action over billionaire Patrick Drahi’s stake in British telecoms company BT Group, which it also examined under the new act.

Shares in Royal Mail, which have lost more than 20 percent of their value so far this year, were up 2 percent at 1353 GMT.

Kretinsky, who built one of Europe’s largest energy groups, EPH, through more than a decade of deals, has stakes in Le Monde newspaper, French retailer Casino, British supermarket group Sainsbury, and French TV group TF1, among others.

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