Petr Kellner, huge figure in post-1989 Czech business, dies in helicopter accident

Petr Kellner, photo: archive of PPF

Billionaire Petr Kellner, a dominant figure in Czech business in the country’s post-1989 period, died in a helicopter crash in Alaska at the weekend. Tributes have been paid to the 56-year-old, whose business empire extended around the globe.

Petr Kellner was among five people killed in a helicopter crash around 80 kilometres from Anchorage in Alaska on Saturday evening, his financial group PPF said on Monday. The party were reportedly on a heli-skiing trip when the tragedy occurred.

Kellner – a true titan of Czech business in the post-Communist period – was long famous as the country’s richest citizen. However, he shunned the limelight and for some years was known to the public from only a handful of photographs.

His personal wealth was estimated at USD 17.5 billion, while PPF possessed EUR 44 billion in assets in the middle of last year, news agencies said.

Kellner’s ride to immense wealth begin in the 1990s, when he and some partners started PPF as an investment firm when post-Communist Czechoslovakia was selling off lots of previously state-owned companies.

PPF then bought a controlling stake in the country’s biggest insurance company, Česká pojišťovna, marking another milestone in its advance.

Later PPF expanded into finance, telecommunications and other fields, operating firms in Europe, Asia, the US and elsewhere.

In addition, Kellner’s group is the majority owner of Home Credit, a consumer loans firm that is big in China and other Southeast Asia states. It also owns telecommunications firms in Central and Eastern Europe, among them O2 in his native Czech Republic.

Last year PPF finalised the takeover of Central European Media Enterprises, a group of television stations in the region that includes Czech broadcaster TV Nova.

State Troopers in Alaska said that five people, including the Czech tycoon, had been killed when a helicopter came down near Knik Glacier. Another person was injured.

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, described Kellner’s death as an unbelievable tragedy and offered sincere condolences to his family.

President Miloš Zeman’s spokesperson said that the head of state had great respect for hid successes in business and was immensely sorry about his tragic death.

A spokesperson for PPF appealed for respect for the Kellner family’s privacy and said he would have a small family funeral.