‘Czech sphinx’ Royal Mail investor advised by ex-Labour star Chuka Umunna

‘Czech sphinx’ Royal Mail investor advised by ex-Labour star Chuka Umunna
Written by MAGASIR

A Czech energy tycoon that trade union leaders claim is plotting a takeover of Royal Mail is being advised by Chuka Umunna, The Telegraph can disclose.

The former Labor leadership hopeful, who was a prominent critic of Royal Mail’s privatisation while a frontbench MP, has been hired by Vesa Equity, the investment business of billionaire investor Daniel Kretinsky.

Mr Umunna is working with Vesa in his role as managing director and division head at JP Morgan, a position he has held since early 2021.

He is advising Mr Kretinsky on his British interests, which include a 23pc stake in Royal Mail, a 10pc shareholding in Sainsbury’s, and joint ownership of Premier League football club West Ham United.

Mr Kretinsky, whose net worth of $5.3bn emanates from owning the largest energy group in Central Europe, has been accused by postal unions of pushing either a takeover or break-up of Royal Mail.

Dave Ward, head of the Communication Workers Union, has also alleged that Mr Kretinsky is behind the accelerating pace of change at Royal Mail, which includes plans to ax six-days-a-week letter deliveries.

The accusations come as Royal Mail battles the worst industrial dispute since privatisation, with postal workers striking in protest over pay and working practice reforms.

Mr Kretinsky is nicknamed the “Czech sphinx” because of a lack of public statements and his intentions at Royal Mail are unclear.

Mr Umunna’s involvement leaves him open to accusations of hypocrisy. The former MP, who left parliament in 2019, previously argued that David Cameron’s privatization of Royal Mail in 2013 would “destroy the UK’s universal postal service”.

He said in 2013: “There’s no way private companies can maintain six-day-a-week deliveries to every single address in the UK.

“Maintaining the Royal Mail in public ownership gives the taxpayer an ongoing direct interest of universal postal services in this country… and it ensures the taxpayer gets the share in the upside of modernization and the increased profits which Royal Mail delivers.”

Mr Umunna joined JP Morgan as head of environmental, social, and corporate governance across Europe, the Middle East and Africa in 2021 following a political career during which he repeatedly criticized the banking sector.

He criticized “reckless remuneration encouraging risky behavior” in the years following the global financial crisis and in 2011 he retweeted an Evening Standard editorial that said: “A banker’s boot on the throat of small businesses is a boot on the throat of the cony. “

Representatives for JP Morgan and Mr Umunna declined to comment.

Finsbury, the public relations company founded by Brexit critic Roland Rudd, is also advising Mr Kretinsky. Like Mr Umunna, Finsbury has historic ties to the Labor Party. Mr Rudd campaigned on behalf of Lord Peter Mandelson during the early noughties and went on to advise Sir Tony Blair after he left office.

Although Finsbury was sold to advertising giant WPP more than two decades ago, Mr Rudd remains the firm’s chairman.

Mr Kretinsky, who also owns power stations in the UK, remains an enigma to many. He rarely gives interviews, despite owning parts of the Czech media and a stake in France’s Le Monde.

He began stakebuilding in Royal Mail three years ago and has been cleared to continue acquiring shares following an investigation by the Business Department.

Josef Kotrba, who leads accountancy giant Deloitte in the Czech Republic, said in 2020: “He is the definition of rationality and lack of emotion. He is very analytical and does a lot of the financial analysis himself.

“The exception to this non-emotional and analytical way of investing is the money he has put into football. He is such a passionate football fan. I think that it is the one investment that makes no sense next to the rest of his interests. “

Mr Kretinsky owns Czech football club Sparta Prague. He acquired a 21pc stake in West Ham United in 2021 with an option to buy out the club’s long-term owners David Gold and David Sullivan at a later date.

Finsbury declined to comment, as did representatives for Mr Kretinsky.


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