The king of Pařížská street, godfather of the ODS party, the fixer from Vršovice, a solar baron or Monégasque rentier... Those are only a few of Ivo Rittig's aliases - the businessman and lobbyist whole media portrait is influenced by various court cases, out of which he recently won one after a long seven years. He used to guard his privacy strictly and almost never gave interviews, so the press never wrote anything on him aside from how he, together with seventeen other accused, tunneled the Prague Transportation Undertaking. He did, however, convince the court of his innocence, and now the time is right to show the public that he's also a dad, a husband, collector, lover of great food, a heart man and a cool guy. Simply a person made of flesh and bone.
Ivo, last month you won a case that'd dragged on for seven years; in total that's the second one you've won. It was your name day just the day after, so I assume you had a nice weekend at home.
We did, though we don't really celebrate name days. There are so many of us that we'd have to celebrate every day. But since an extraordinary thing had happened, one that brightened up our lives, we added name day celebrations to the small party for me and Sofinka (Ivo's eleven-years-old daughter, Ed.) and it was the full package. With cake, a formal lunch, presents... so we broke the rule not to celebrate name days for once.
The transport undertaking case is not the only thing that made it to the courthouse. In what way do the legal battles influence your life?
I'd be lying if I said that the legal battles don't have any influence my life. No one's totally fireproof. The events of the past few years mostly had an impact on my family, both in spirit and mind, as you say. But unity and belief in things working out, and the faith the few friends we have left had in us culminated in the Friday verdict. Even if it's just a first-instance one.
The public prosecutor is going to appeal. Do you think it's unnecessary?
The judge's reasoning was so devastating and expositive for the prosecutor that, as mister Štěpánek, a former member of the Radio and Television Council once said in the Parlamentní listy newspaper, "another appeal is a waste of Czech citizens' and taxpayers' money."
When you were waiting for the sentence on Friday morning, did you believe you'd be acquitted, or were there worries?
If I hadn't believed, I'd have denied my own consciousness of not having broken the law. I don't gamble and I don't play black and white. Of course I was totally convinced from the unfolding situation, the questionings, hearings and testimonies from witnesses that we hadn't heard before, that I'd be acquitted. In the opposite case it'd be a total failure of the justice system.
Do you consider court proceedings to be a part of your life? Can one get used to living like this?
As I said, I've lived three lives. One I lived until 1990, one I lived in the 90's, and the third one I've been living since 2000. I won't be telling people that I'm Mirek Dušín or that some deals I made weren't kind of borderline. But I have common sense and I have purpose. I've never committed any crime.
As far as the incident from seven years ago is concerned, it had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity or the alleged activity of a certain group of people. These stories will continue unraveling. Mister Dvořák (former CEO of DPP, Ed.) foreshadowed a part of that in his statement to the press and also his closing statement by the court, that the whole case was just a setting for a story that never happened. We were in the public eye, we were known, we made a lot of business decisions and I consider it a total exploitation of the people around us. It was submit to a completely different story, a story of a personal dispute between mister Dvořák and mister Randák, Soukenka and others. The DPP story was just an excuse.
When was the last time you rode on public transport?
This question is spot-on. In my closing statement that took 45 minutes and that I had not prepared in any way, I said that this whole case made it impossible for me to use any form of public transportation in Prague. The moment that the scandal about the 17 cents out of a ticket broke, when I wasn't even accused of that by the public prosecutor, so it's all a fabrication, the comrades from the Blesk magazine put up a headline on advertising boards, "This person bought a plane for your 17 cents", because at that time one of my companies had just purchased a plane. And this untrue and intentionally slanderous headline kept circulating for about two weeks, so all the people who have nothing better to do and just look around on trams and in the subway were getting brainwashed by it. And for me, that resulted in not being able to enter any subway, tram or bus since 2011.
What means of transportation is your favorite then?
I usually drive a car, but I'm most fond of ships. We spend most of our summers on a ship, roaming along the Croatian coastline.
Up until recently it was almost impossible to get an interview with you, lately you have been letting the public see a glimpse of your personal life through Instagram though. Do you feel drawn to having influence in this field?
I want to influence the thoughts of sensation-craving people a little bit, so that they don't make mountains out of molehills, don't listen to gossip magazine crap that paints us as some sort of supernatural beings. That's why my family and I decided to reveal a bit of our private life, so that people don't think we live like some kind of oligarchs that find it unthinkable to walk on the sidewalk.
Do you take social media advice from anybody, like your children for example?
I consult it with my whole family, the kids have more experience with it of course. Our family is big, and everyone has their own opinion. My wife Lenka enjoys it the most, probably. I do take my kids' opinion into consideration, whatever it may be, I value it for always being honest.
You have a lot of children, who, unlike you, never knew what it's like to go hungry or to be unable to buy a toy. How do you raise them?
My wife and I try, even if it might seem hard sometimes, to keep their view of the world at least a little bit similar to our image of it. It's hard these days, when everything is available, but we want to push them towards having the right amount of respect and humility, to be able to tell right from wrong, and to just view the world through normal eyes. This topic that you're asking about is very complicated for us, but we try to deal with it. We try to let them know that they have to act normal and we really don't want them to think everything is permitted in this world.
Ivo, how do you remember your childhood, actually? I assume it cannot be compared to the life of your kids.
I don't want this to sound like the usual rags to riches story that everyone tells, but really, I grew up in Libeň, in this gypsy neighborhood, living with my grandma and grandpa in a two-room flat. My mom did what she could but she had trouble even getting us anything decent to eat. When I started going to school, she decided to work in a restaurant where she had it a bit better and we had a bit more food. That's when my relationship with food began forming and with that my figure too (laugh). Battling my weight is probably the only battle I keep on losing.
Did you have any other passion or hobby as a boy, aside from food?
I wanted to collect something and as any other little boy I loved model cars. But back then, in these "commie times", a model car was a tiny treasure. We didn't have money for them, of course.
One day, I think it was in 1973, my mom brought one home, though. My first model car! Later I worked my way up to having ten more pieces. Back then they cost ten whole crowns. After the revolution I began collecting them big time. I contacted a bunch of collectors and markets and decided that I would collect these cars from number 1 to 6000. Now I have about a third of that and, of course, the first one from my mom is still in my collection.
These days you can afford a collection of real cars. Do you collect those too? What kind of "babies" are in your garage?
I don't collect cars, but I don't like parting with them, so I have more of them in my garage that I need. It's true though that I bought a couple cars just because I found them interesting in some way. A V12 Bentley Speed, for example, that will definitely disappear from the world in a few years. Then it will be worth serious money. I also have a DTM CLK Mercedes manufactured in the limited quantity of under a hundred units. Ten years ago I treated myself to a Ferrari. Paradoxically we didn't even feel tempted to drive too far in it. These days it has very low mileage and it's better not to drive it too much and keep it in the state it's in. Its worth would go down with every mile.
Is there anything else you have a lot of that you could call a collection?
I also focus on design products by the companies Beng & Olufsen and Revox (audio technology, Ed.) and old heavy Hi-Fi systems of Japanese origin by many different brands. I own a kind of cross-section from 1950's to 1980's and 90's. By the way, some Revox tape recorders are still used by Voice of America these days. That's how durable they are.
And then stamps. I decided to collect football-themed ones. The first one came out in 1934. It's not complicated tracking them down, these days there are catalogues listing all stamps that have ever been printed. It's no Mauritius or old stamps though. These are modern stamps, their worth will only go up after several decades, once you won't be able to get the same pieces. Today the collection is only valuable because of its size. Above me there's probably only the Chess Grandmaster Karpov and Havelange, the former chairman of FIFA, who collects football stamps.
Where do you get these things?
All over the world in all kinds of auctions. But I'm already slightly known for it with the public as well, so sometimes somebody makes an offer to me on social media. I even bought three things this way already.
Do you have a budget that you are not willing to go over?
I'm not crazy. These purchases range in thousands of euros, not hundreds of thousands.
Is there a common denominator of all these collections?
That's easy. All these collections have one link, and that is, when I was a boy, I wanted this, and I couldn't have it.
Do you have bigger plans for any of your collections? Like a museum, let's say.
I've been thinking about it, but for now I don't think it has the size and the coherence for a museum.
What's your relationship with clothes? Is fashion important to you as a man?
My interest in fashion is the same as any normal man's, I don't overthink it and I'm under the guidance of my wife, who is my main consultant on fashion. I like watches and I wear a lucky bracelet.
Which fashion brand is among your favorites?
Versace is my iconic brand, and lately I've come to like Gucci because of how colorful it is.
If I recall correctly, after the revolution you were one of the first people to import foreign brands to us, and Versace was the first one. How do you remember that period?
Those were nice times, because it was new times, and everything that's new is nice. Back then there were only milk stores, smoke shops, flower shops and insurance companies in Pařížská street. I bought a pair of pants there at that time, thinking I was getting new Armani. I paid ten thousand crowns for them, and then I was told I'd been wrong. The model was eight years old. So I bought plane tickets to Italy, and with my companions we reached out to several fashion brands. Everyone was too vain to open a branch in the Czech Republic, only Versace wasn't, even though they had the right to be.
And so we opened the first Versace boutique in the Czech republic in '95. So we had the right to use their name for the store, put those two golden plaques there that were there for twenty years. But most importantly we displayed new collections there, the same day they were presented in Milan, Paris or New York. Back then there wasn't a Versace store yet in Moscow or Vienna or the Northern European countries. They were mostly interested in the American and Asian markets. In those days, it was a real moneymaker, although nobody understood why a shirt would cost fifty thousand and a suit a hundred.
Back then, you weren't only interested in fashion, but also boxing, that is coming back into the spotlight in the Czech Republic after many years. Is this sport more about fun or about business to you?
Now it's fun, because at the moment I don't do business in the Czech Republic. But I'm surprised myself by the high standards and popularity it reached here. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland are at the top of the MMA in Europe now, so we have the biggest prize money, some of the best matches, in short the rest of Europe is far behind us in this respect. In the USA it's a tough business and all the cards have been dealt, but it's possible that we'll bring it from the Czech Republic to other European countries too. And then I'll be financially interested.
Will you tell us what kind of activities in the business sphere are your flagship these days?
I don't do business in the Czech Republic at all because of the court proceedings, and around the world I'm mostly interested in real estate projects.
What would you likely be doing now if the '89 revolution never happened?
I probably wouldn't be here at all. I've had the business spirit since the age of about six, when I'd sell things to my classmates for profit. It was mostly barter, sure, but then I traded what I could. In short, I did what'd worked for people for millions of years when they'd traded flints, mammoths, pieces of glass and I don't know what else, to get more than what they'd had before. Only the commie idiots didn't understand that that's what business is about. I was absolutely unable to understand the regime of that time. I would only be here to the very moment that I got the opportunity to climb over a fence somewhere and flee.
What keeps you in the Czech Republic these days? You don't exactly have it easy here.
It's my home and I like it here. Communism was something else, these lawsuits can't deter me.
Do you think it's harder to make it as a business owner in these times?
My opinion is that it always takes about five hundred years to create a stable market. Economists would agree with me that most billionaires in the world have been born in harsh circumstances. World War I, World War II... If that one hadn't happened, the Germans wouldn't be where they are now. Moreover, the upper class formed in colonialist and imperialist times, when world powers acquired massive amounts of wealth. That's why you can't expect miracles in the Czech Republic, where doing business used to be forbidden.
I'm actually surprised the Czech Republic survived the onslaught of capitalism at all. It's a downright miracle that there are actually any rich people here, after such a short time. In the 30 years since the revolution we can't get to where others took 500 years to get to. No civil wars, colonies, only the velvet revolution, value added tax, privatization, that's nothing, compared to what happened elsewhere.
To get back to the question though, yes, back then you'd buy three trucks of toys or oil, get it in through the border, sell it and make money. You can't do that now. Making money is harder here as well. Of course, you can't just easily get rich in America either. People only make huge amounts of money if they come up with something unique.
What avenue of business would you focus on if you were let's say twenty years old today?
We live in hectic times, when everything is rather complicated for people, be it from the economical or political standpoint, and so on, to navigate all that. We have remnants of a bygone time in here, and that is the typical Czech envy. You still have people that have it rooted in their heads that you cannot forgive somebody for having a better car or a bigger house. Envy is still the number one signpost here, and so I admire anyone who can do business here and make money. But the more money we make, the better it'll get here, I think.
If I were starting out, I wouldn't base my business on tested and well-known things, I'd focus on new technologies, And then I could invest the money I made this way back into tested and well-known things, and make those better.
Ivo, how do you view the giant jump in material means that happened in your life? Not anyone works their way up from Libeň to Monaco, where you've been living partially.
In my life, aside from being able to buy more things and travel abroad, nothing changed.
When you look back. Is there a point in time you'd want to go back to, where you'd like to stop? I mean an amount of wealth that can reach a phase of having negative effects and bringing more trouble than joy.
I have a rule to always look forward. I don't ever look back and I never judge my choices, because I'd be needlessly drowning in what I should have done, or shouldn't have done.
Naturally for any reason of "popularity" that I now have, and because of the events that are a thing now, and that mostly affect my family, who have to respect that there are places I can go, and places I can't go. I can live with it, it's the way of life I've chosen. I didn't give this choice to my family, but they are with me. I keep following the path I laid out for myself, as I say, "Glory, fame and money, and whoever lies is as good as a thief, and is on their way to Hell".