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UK’s Royal Mail sold to Czech billionaire

LONDON (AP) – The owner of Britain’s Royal Mail said Wednesday it has accepted a GBP3.6 billion (USD4.6 billion) takeover offer from Czech investor Daniel Křetínský.

Under the deal, Křetínský’s EP Group would buy International Distribution Services, which owns Royal Mail, for GBP3.70 (USD4.72) per share.

Including debt, the deal values IDS at GBP5.2 billion pounds (USD6.6 billion).

It said EP Group would offer a series of “contractual commitments and intentions” to protect public service aspects of the 500-year-old postal service.

Long state-owned, Royal Mail was privatised by the UK’s Conservative government in 2013 and has struggled financially.

IDS said no major job losses were planned as part of the deal, which must be approved by shareholders. Under the plan, Royal Mail would maintain its name, branding, UK headquarters and obligation to six-day-a-week mail delivery.

Křetínský, who already holds a 27 per cent stake in the Royal Mail’s parent company, has a vast, Europe-wide portfolio of business interests.

In the Czech Republic, he owns book publishing houses, a sport daily and magazines, and he co-owns French newspaper Le Monde. He has stakes in companies including Macy’s, Foot Locker and UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.

He also owns a stake in Premier League soccer team West Ham.

Křetínský said his company “has the utmost respect for Royal Mail’s history and tradition, and I know that owning this business will come with enormous responsibility -– not just to the employees but to the citizens who rely on its services every day.”

Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said he welcomed some of the commitments, but added that “the reality is postal workers across the UK have lost all faith in the senior management of Royal Mail and the service has been deliberately run down.”

“We will meet with EP Group next week and call for a complete reset in employee and industrial relations, the restoration of postal services and further commitments on the future of the company,” he said.

Royal Mail vans line up at London’s largest sorting office, Mount Pleasant, September 12, 2013. PHOTO: AP