A billionaire who this week could be chosen to run the National Lottery has business ties with Russian-state energy giant Gazprom, the Mail can reveal.
Karel Komarek is hoping to win the highly lucrative licence with a plan to slash ticket prices from £2 to £1.
But the Czech businessman, who runs Europe’s largest lottery operator, Allwyn, faces scrutiny over his links with Gazprom, which is controlled by the Kremlin.
Putin critic: Czech businessman Karel Komarek (pictured with wife Stepanka) is hoping to win the highly lucrative National Lottery licence with a plan to slash ticket prices from £2 to £1
His company MND (Moravske Naftove Doly) formed a joint venture with Gazprom to build an underground gas storage facility in his home country, which opened in Moravia in 2016.
For several years, MND also held a stake in a Czech gas importer that is majority-owned by subsidiaries of Gazprom, although it no longer does so.
Downing Street has called on firms to think about their connections to Russian firms even if they have not been sanctioned.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister’s view is that Putin’s regime, and Putin, must be treated like a pariah state and businesses should think very carefully if they are still continuing to do anything that props up the Putin regime.’
He added: ‘What we are trying to do is to make clear that even when we’re not taking legislative action, people should think very carefully about how they engage with any organisations that may be assisting Putin, even inadvertently, in the invasion of Ukraine.’ Mr Komarek, who is worth £5.9billion according to Forbes, started his business in the 1990s in the oil and gas sector.
He moved into lotteries a decade ago when he bought the firm that runs draws in the Czech Republic.
Now called Allwyn, it has expanded, becoming the top lottery operator in Italy, Austria, Greece and Cyprus. It hopes to wrest the National Lottery licence away from Camelot, with the decision on who wins the new franchise possibly being taken by the Gambling Commission this week, though the outcome may not be made public until later this month.
Allwyn has pledged to donate £38billion to good causes over the next decade if it wins – up from £16billion donated by Camelot since 2012.
But some questioned whether this will be achieved. An industry insider last night said: ‘If you halve the ticket price you’ll also halve the revenue raised unless you double the number of players. This would significantly reduce money raised for good causes and the Treasury.’
Komarek and Gazprom announced a joint venture to construct an underground gas storage facility in Moravia in 2013. He posed for photos with Alexander Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee.
Ruling: Allwyn hopes to wrest the lottery licence away from Camelot, with the decision on who wins the new franchise possibly being taken by the Gambling Commission this week
In a press release, Komarek said: ‘Gazprom is our strategic partner. We highly appreciate the opportunity of creating a joint venture with one of the global energy majors. We see it as a kind of a reward for many years of professional performance in the oil and gas sector. In future we are planning new joint projects not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Europe and the Russian Federation.’
Gazprom, which is majority-owned by the Russian state, has been targeted in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. Uefa, European football’s governing body, has ended its sponsorship deals with it for the Champions League and Euro 2024. German club Schalke is also cancelling its deal with Gazprom.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, last week said he was halting Nord Stream 2, the new gas pipeline built by Gazprom running from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea.
The Daily Mail understands the Gambling Commission has written to bidders for the lottery licence to ask if they are affected by sanctions imposed on Russian firms and individuals. Gazprom is not currently on the list of sanctioned companies.
Komarek criticised Putin in a statement on his LinkedIn page last week. He wrote: ‘I strongly condemn the act of war which Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation have undertaken.
‘The EU and Nato must show unity against this unprovoked aggression, and we must protect the democratic values upon which our societies were built.
‘I am confident that world powers and all democratic nations will impose the strongest possible sanctions on Russia.
If we can achieve this, we will successfully show Vladimir Putin that senseless acts of war have no place here, or anywhere else.
February 24, 2022, is not just a date when war began in Europe. It is also a date that signifies the beginning of the end of Vladimir Putin’s era.
‘We cannot allow the loss of civilian life as a consequence of this senseless decision. I extend my full support to the people of Ukraine at this perilous time.’
A spokesman for Komarek said: ‘Mr Komarek has been a very public critic of the Russian president, last week making an impassioned public statement condemning his actions and predicting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine signifies the beginning of the end of his regime.
He took the decision many years ago to divest and exit from Russian assets with the exception of a 50/50 joint-venture (JV) with Gazprom.
‘This JV was maintained to ensure an important Czech energy asset was not subject to full Russian control, however since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Mr Komarek has approached the Czech government to discuss how to maintain Czech control of this critical national asset, while removing Gazprom from the JV.’
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