Petr Kellner, the Czech Republic’s richest person and one of the dominant figures in the country’s business scene, died in a helicopter crash in Alaska on Saturday.
Kellner, who was 56, was one of five people killed when the Airbus AS350B3 helicopter they were travelling in came down near the Knik Glacier, a mountainous area near Anchorage.
A sixth passenger survived the crash and was taken to hospital in a serious but stable condition, according to Alaska State Troopers. Officials added that the party was thought to have been heli-skiing, and said that an investigation into the cause of the crash would be carried out.
News of the death of Kellner, who built a business empire ranging from insurance to telecoms and mining in the years following the collapse of communism, was greeted with shock in Czech Republic.
“An unbelievable tragedy,” Andrej Babis, the country’s prime minister wrote on Twitter. “I’m very sorry.”
Jan Hamacek, interior minister and head of the country’s Social Democratic party, also expressed his condolences.
“A year ago, [Petr Kellner] was one of the first entrepreneurs to help the Czech Republic during the difficult situation at the beginning of the pandemic, ” he said, referring to donations of medical equipment made by Kellner’s investment company PPF. “Honour to his memory.”
Kellner, whose fortune was estimated to be $17.5bn by Forbes, was fiercely protective of his own and his family’s privacy. But despite this, he was one of the Czech Republic’s best-known businessmen.
He launched his career in 1991 by founding PPF as a vehicle to invest in the privatisation programmes that took place after Czechoslovakia threw off communism during the Velvet Revolution, and embarked on a dizzying transition into a capitalist economy.
The group’s first big move was the purchase of a stake in Ceska Pojistovna, the formerly state-run insurer. Kellner also founded the consumer credit group Home Credit and over the next three decades, expanded his empire’s activities into real estate, telecoms and biotechnology.
By mid 2020, PPF’s assets had reached €43.7bn, and the group was active in a string of international markets, including China, Russia, India and the US.
It is at present in the process of negotiating a share swap deal that would give it control of Moneta Money Bank, a Czech lender, and is also considering the sale of a stake in its telecoms infrastructure business, Cetin Group.
PPF did not immediately respond to questions about whether those transactions would be affected by Kellner’s death.
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