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METRO GROUP: the countdown to the newest Nuremberg

Today, no one doubts that the global business that remains in Russia deliberately finances military aggression against Ukraine.  

Almost a year away from the full-scale invasion, it is crystal clear that Putin’s goal is the genocide of Ukrainians, and his means are terrorism, crimes against humanity and propaganda. And the further, the more often world-famous companies choosing the Russian consumer become complicit in these violent actions.

One of the transnational heavyweights that does not leave the Russian market is METRO. In early February, the general director of this network of hypermarkets confirmed plans to continue business in the Russian Federation. The official explanation is the care and responsibility of the 10 thousand of their colleagues and consumers, whom they provide with basic food. 

Such a statement, of course, does not stand to criticism. Especially if we recall that at the beginning of the war the German office threatened the Ukrainian office with the termination of the supply of goods for pressure on the corporation to leave Russia. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  A superficial analysis of the facts suggests that METRO feels comfortable in the aggressor country and will hold on to its market beyond anything.

Metro Cash & Carry was founded in 1964 in Germany, then FRG. The founder of the company is Otto Baisheim (1924-2013). During World War II, he served in Adolf Hitler’s Life Standard – the first SS tank division. After the war, the British were denazified in captivity. In 1996, these merged three companies, Metro Cash & Carry, Kaufhof Holding AG and Asko Deutsche Kaufhaus AG at Metro AG (METRO GROUP). Today joint-stock company METRO GROUP owns the fourth largest trading network in the world. By 2020 the main owners were German families: Haniel 30% of the shares, Schmidt-Rutenbeck 15.7%, Baysheim 9.1%.

In the fall of 2020, EP Global Commerce (EPGC) reported that it had exercised an option to buy shares in the German family investment group Haniel and increased its share to29.99% from 17.52%. This move made EPGC the largest shareholder of METRO. But the investor did not stop there: now EPGC has increased its stake to 45.62%. 

EP Global Commerce (EPGC) is a group of companies owned by two investors: Patrick Tkach (47%) and Daniel Kretynsky (53%). The company was founded in June 2018 and is based in Munich. Two sub-companies, EPGC I and EPGC II, were formed to acquire shares of METRO AG from Haniel and CECONOMY.

Daniel Kretynsky is one of the richest businessmen in the Czech Republic. Forbes estimates Kretynsky’s net worth at $5 billion. The Financial Times calls Kretynsky one of the most influential people in Europe. In 2020, Forbes put him in third place among the richest people in the Czech Republic, with assets amounting to 78 billion crowns (3 billion euros), which put him even ahead of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The assets in his property are surprising for their diversity, among them 94% of the largest energy group in Central Europe, Energetický a průmyslový Holding (EPH), 49% of the parent company of Le Monde, a stake in AC Sparta Prague football club and West Ham United shares, 20% of the UK’s national postal operator Royal Mail, and 10% of Sainsbury’s (the second-largest supermarket chain in Great Britain).

In addition, Daniel Kretynsky controls EP Infrastructure (EPIF), which owns 49 percent of Eustream, the company that operates the gas transmission system that transports Russian gas to Central and Eastern Europe. And recently, the reverse to Ukraine.  Perhaps it is the interests of the key shareholder of METRO AG in the energy sector and Russian energy carriers that influence the company’s decision to remain in “Mordor”.

The development of the Metro Cash & Carry project in Russia officially began on November 1, 2000, in Moscow. The company currently operates 93 shopping malls in 51 regions. At the end of the 2021/2022 fiscal year, the company’s sales in Russia increased by 22.3% year-on-year to 2.9 billion euros.

In 2019, the Russian METRO said that it would concentrate on the franchise project of the chain of grocery stores “near the house” – “Fasol”, instead of opening large hypermarkets, and began to develop it in a financial partnership with Sberbank in Russia.  The program is still valid.

The state-owned Sberbank has been under  EU sanctions  since 2014. In 2022, sanctions against Sberbank were imposed by the United States and Great Britain. The EU in  the sixth package of sanctions decided to disconnect the bank from SWIFT. One of the projects of Sberbank – the card “Peace” for military and military pensioners is called “Army of Russia “, created for real purposes to motivate and persuade Russian citizens to mobilize and fight against Ukrainians. Against the background of the fact that the entire civilized business refused to cooperate with the Peace cards of the sanctioned Sberbank, the Turkish metro network continued to accept these cards for payments without any problems.

The gas transportation component of the business group, cooperation with sanctioned Sberbank and the multimillion-dollar Russian market are too tiny of reasons to leave Russia.  Moreover, for METRO, this is a good enough reason not only to finance aggression, but to take a direct part in it.

But for the Russian authorities today it is no longer enough for Western companies to fulfill their business obligations. Taxes and even participation in voluntary-compulsory pro-government “humanitarian” and “charitable” actions are just the tip of the iceberg. Today, large companies are becoming powerful platforms to influence public opinion. Access to personal data of buyers, “charged” advertising campaigns and even the range of goods is a resource that the Russian authorities are not ready to lose.

In early December 2022, a screenshot from the METRO online showcase was distributed on the Internet  stating that the German network in Russia was selling “Wagner sledgehammers”. This is the same “attribute of mercenaries from the “Wagner CEC””, which gained conditional popularity after the publication of cruel videos about the alleged execution of CEC fighters who returned from Ukrainian captivity.

“Wagner’s sledgehammer” is probably  an  attempt by the management to entertain the imperial ambitions of consumers in the Russian market, to emphasize the right of Russia and the Russians to despise everything but their own interests. This is a demonstration of the value gap between the civilized world and the world of Russia, the division into “there” and “here”. So, it Is not by chance that it is these sledgehammers that the mercenary of Russian criminals Prigozhin also uses as a symbol of mockery of the civilized world in the face of the European Parliament, to which  the instrument was sent after Russia was recognized as a sponsor of terrorism.

And although immediately after the scandal broke out in the media, German retail was quick to remove the product from the online marketplace, the promotion it made in the future looks rather ambiguous. Why ambiguous? After all, the sources of refutation raise reasonable doubts about the seriousness and purity of METRO’s intentions, because among them, for the overwhelming majority are adult sites, and not weighty and transparent media with a wide audience.

The above example clearly demonstrates that Russian representative offices of Western companies are increasingly becoming hostages of Putin’s militaristic regime. What was originally the choice of business priorities turns into a vicious possibility of the disgusting military propaganda machine and, probably, will receive its due assessment during the newest Nuremberg. 

The anniversary of the war in Ukraine is a good reason for transnational giants, appetizing to Russian revenues, to think about preserving a civilized face.  However, this is also a good reason for the collective west to finally turn on the zero-tolerance regime for its business players, who make shameful compromises with the bloody Russian regime. “If you work in Russia, get ready for a tribunal” is the only way to go for METRO and similar businesses.

This publication was prepared by the Underdog The Unlawyers News Agency specifically for the “Don’t Fund Russian Army” project.