Telefonica cashes its Czechs, as country’s richest man agrees to take over local telco

The Czech Republic’s biggest telecommunications operator, Telefonica(s tef) Czech Republic, will probably soon be under local control, after the investment vehicle of the country’s richest man agreed to buy a controlling stake.

The deal will net Spain’s Telefonica group €2.47 billion ($3.33 billion), which it will use to reduce its debts, while Petr Kellner’s PPF Group will get 65.9 percent of the telco, including its Telefonica Slovakia operations.

Telefonica will hang onto a 4.9 percent stake and, according to a statement, will “remain as an industrial and commercial partner for a period of four years” – that includes allowing the operations to continue under the O2 brand, although they must find new names by the end of the period.

The two operations have 9.3 million customers for mobile, IPTV and fixed-line services. Telefonica Czech Republic began operations in 2005, and the Slovakian business in 2007. According to Bloomberg, the combined operation has been suffering in the face of competition from Vodafone(s vod) and Deutsche Telekom.

Telefonica is currently shuffling its cards. In June it said it would sell its Irish business to Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa, which runs the Three mobile brand in Europe, and it’s also trying to take over KPN’s E-Plus mobile carrier in Germany. Both deals are currently held up by EU regulators – the Czech deal is also subject to regulatory approval, but as PPF isn’t a big telecoms player I suspect it won’t have much trouble.

Telefonica is also busy taking greater control of Telecom Italia, in which it is already the largest shareholder.