Poland's PKN Orlen says media takeover unchanged by court decision

WARSAW (Reuters) -Polish PKN Orlen chief executive said a court decision to suspend the competition watchdog UOKiK’ approval of the state-backed refiner’s takeover of newspaper publisher Polska Press would have no impact because the deal has been completed.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of PKN Orlen, Poland's top oil refiner, is pictured at a petrol station in Warsaw, Poland, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

Opposition political parties have said the takeover - approved by UOKiK and completed by PKN earlier this year - is part of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s wider efforts to increase its control of the media.

On Monday the Court of Competition and Consumer Protection suspended the UOKiK approval, following an appeal by Human Rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, a vocal government critic.

PiS lawmakers have said foreign media companies have too much influence in Poland, while PKN Orlen, in which the state holds a 27.52% stake, said the deal was purely a business transaction.

“The acquisition of the shares of Polska Press took place successfully on March 1, 2021, i.e. before the court issued the decision. Therefore, the court’s decision is irrelevant and does not affect our actions or the effectiveness of the acquisition,” PKN Chief Executive Daniel Obajtek said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“The court’s decision also does not restrict PKN Orlen from exercising ownership rights from shares in Polska Press,” Obajtek also said.

In the ruling published on Tuesday on UOKiK’s website, the court said it was not yet clear whether the takeover would significantly limit competition.

It also said that disregarding the ombudsman’s appeal against the competition watchdog’s approval of the PKN deal would lead to the company executing a decision that is not final, as it has been appealed by an authorised body, “which should not take place in a democratic state of law”.

UOKiK called the court’s decision a “disturbing precedent” and said it would ask the court to speed up its ruling on the ombudsman’s appeal.

“We are currently analysing further legal steps, including the possibility of revoking the court’s decision,” UOKiK said in a statement.

But Bodnar said the court’s interim decision was final and not subject to appeal.

The refiner announced its plans to buy Polska Press in December. The media group publishes 20 regional dailies, about 100 local weeklies, several magazines and, a free city newspaper, its website says.

The takeover would add to a list of M&A deals announced by PKN Orlen under the management of Obajtek, who has been publicly praised by PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Alan Charlish, Joanna Plucinska and Anna Koper; editing by Jason Neely, Bernadette Baum and Barbara Lewis