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It was the first time that security risks related to the allocation of radio frequencies were discussed in the Czech Republic. As she herself admitted, counterintelligence had to monitor the situation as well.
In the end, however, the telecommunications company with Russian owner Infinity Telecom abandoned the upcoming auction of frequencies intended for digital radio broadcasting at the last minute. Company spokesman Jevhen Kojkov stated this in an e-mail for Nauzal over the weekend. He did not share the reasons why they decided to resign, although the editors asked him to do so. “We will provide detailed information on Monday,” he said only.
Even the Czech Telecommunications Authority (ČTÚ), which organizes the auction, did not comment on the withdrawal of the participant with a Russian owner. The spokeswoman of the office, Tereza Meravá, referred to the fact that the office “does not yet have such information”.
The company Infinity Telecom is owned by Andrej Čikalenko, an entrepreneur with Russian citizenship, established in the Czech Republic. His application for the auction of frequencies for digital radio broadcasting confused the heads of state institutions – mainly because of the already mentioned security risks.
If such an entity applied for a tender for the construction of highways, for example, it would clearly be out of luck. Due to the war in Ukraine, companies owned by Russians are unequivocally prohibited from participating in competitions involving over-the-limit orders.
However, the Czech Telecommunications Authority is proceeding in the selection procedure according to the special Act on Electronic Communications. And in this case, no penalty restriction is expected. In a situation where the bidders have met the basic qualification criteria (which Infinity Telecom also met), in the final it is only a matter of who offers the most money in the electronic auction, as the ČTÚ spokeswoman confirmed to the editors.
The company cannot be excluded without support in the law, only the chairman of the telecommunications office could cancel the entire selection procedure, which has already happened in the past, albeit for other reasons.
What is the frequency auction about?
- The aim of the upcoming auction of radio frequencies is to select the operator of two nationwide and 27 regional broadcasting networks (multiplexes) for commercial radio broadcasting.
- These are networks called DAB+, which is a digital transmission technology. These new networks should offer listeners better sound quality and other stations that can no longer be produced in the current FM band.
- There is already one broadcasting network in operation, but it is used for digital broadcasting of the public Czech Radio.
- A total of nine companies applied for the tender, six of which, according to the available information, were to strive for nationwide networks. Among them was Infinity Telecom, with an owner from Russia who decided to withdraw.
We condemn Putin’s politics
Nauzal originally wanted to meet businessman Čikalenko in person, but he refused. He was only willing to e-mail communication, which was conducted on behalf of the company by the aforementioned spokesman Jevhen Kojkov.
In response to questions from Seznam Zpráv, they denied that their telecommunications company could be a security risk for the Czech state, as well as considerations of a possible connection to Putin’s regime and support for Russian aggression in Ukraine.
“Putin’s policy, including his heinous war initiative, is absolutely rejected and condemned by our society – including by Mr. Chikalenko,” Kojkov wrote to the editors last week.
According to him, Čikalenko moved to the Czech Republic for economic reasons and also because he disagrees with Russian domestic and foreign policy and professes European humanitarian values. “He does not do business in Russia in any form, he has no activities there, whether commercial or social, as well as no property,” the representative of the company described the alleged situation of the owner. According to him, the invested money comes from the company’s own resources.
Kojkov also expressed his readiness to answer all similar questions to the Czech authorities as well. “If any competent state authorities want to check this, we and Mr. Čikalenko are ready to provide any possible cooperation,” said the spokesperson at a time when the company was still counting on participating in the auction.
Business in Russia: Telekom and Seventh Heaven
Infinity Telecom’s claim that there are no security risks surrounding it cannot be reliably verified from publicly available sources. However, the News also searched the Russian Internet and found no mention of the 38-year-old Chikalenko’s connection to the Kremlin regime.
The Russian commercial register only shows that the Russian businessman, originally living in the city of Batajsk, near Rostov-on-Don, managed and co-owned the now-defunct telecommunications company Bataysk Telekom between 2004 and 2011. At the same time he owned a company focused on advertising Sedmoye or (Seventh Heaven).
Chikalenko neither confirmed nor denied this, his spokesman only emphasized that he no longer has any business in Russia.
It is not clear in detail how thoroughly they checked things regarding the company Infinity Telecom and its owner Czech security forces.
“Therefore, at this moment, it is not possible to comment on the process in any way. It still applies that if we find out any risky information about any of the applicants, we will inform the authorized addressees about it,” Ladislav Šticha, spokesman for the Security Information Service, said last Thursday (October 5) when asked by the editors, adding that “standard monitoring is underway in the matter , collection of information and its analysis”.
- It is a small telecommunications company from Prague, the owner of which is a native Russian, Andrej Chikalenko (the documents show the transcription of Andrey Chikalenko).
- It deals with the provision of telecommunication services, especially to corporate clients (B2B).
- It was founded in 2015 and now has 15 employees.
- Last year, it reported sales of over 100 million crowns and a net profit of less than four million crowns.
There won’t even be three radios
At the same time, Andrej Čikalenko did not only apply for the auction for the operation of broadcast networks. At the same time, his other company – Prime Studio – wanted to obtain licenses for three of its own radio stations as part of another procedure (currently at the Radio and Television Broadcasting Council).
According to spokesman Jevhen Kojkov, Čikalenko eventually backed down even from this intention. At the same time, he denied that they wanted to spread propaganda paid to the Kremlin regime on the air.
“There is considerable resistance to this (Kremlin) regime in our society, also considering the national composition of our team, which includes a significant number of people who did not agree with the regime’s current actions or fled the war,” wrote Jevhen Kojkov to the Seznam Zpráv editors in that it was supposed to be only music stations.
The auction for radio frequencies for digital networks was originally supposed to start already this week (October 10), but ČTÚ announced a “minor delay”, the reason being unspecified technical difficulties with the electronic auction software.
“Before starting the auction itself, we have to complete the phase of training, testing and trial auction,” said ČTÚ spokesperson Tereza Meravá, while she did not yet reveal the exact date of the start of the auction.