Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 212

The Prosecutor General’s Office announced today that it has issued an arrest warrant for Media-Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky and put him on its list of wanted fugitives. Investigator Valery Nikolaev ordered Gusinsky’s arrest as a suspect in a case involving large-scale fraud, presumably in connection with Media-Most’s debts to Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly. On November 1, Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov announced that Gusinsky had been summoned to appear for interrogation on November 12 as a suspect in the fraud case involving debts that Media-Most owed to Gazprom. Kolmogorov warned that if Gusinsky failed to appear, a warrant for his arrest might be issued and his name put on the wanted list of Interpol, the international crime-fighting agency. Both Gusinsky and his lawyers have said repeatedly that they fear he would be arrested if he returned to Moscow and appeared for questioning (see the Monitor, October 13, November 2). Despite that, a large group of journalists, photographers and cameramen gathered today outside the offices of the Prosecutor General’s Office’s investigative in central Moscow to see whether the media magnate would appear. Reznik told them his client was “in Europe” and had no attention of appearing simply “to become a victim of lawlessness and cause further suffering to those close to him.” Officially, however, Reznik informed the investigators that Gusinsky would not appear because he was on an extended business trip. For his part, Kolmogorov said that “adequate measures” would be taken to ensure that Gusinsky appeared for questioning, and again warned that the media magnate would be put on Interpol’s wanted list. The news of the arrest warrant followed shortly after Kolmogorov’s remarks (Russian agencies, NTV, Reuters, November 13).

Meanwhile, Dmitri Ostalsky, head of Media-Most’s press service, was quoted as saying today that the media holding signed a “peace agreement” with Gazprom on November 11, according to which Media-Most would transfer some of its shares to the natural gas giant as repayment of a US$211.6 million loan which came due earlier this year. Ostalsky said the agreement resolved the dispute between Media-Most and Gazprom. Media-Most owes Gazprom a total of US$473 million for loans or loan guarantees. Ostalsky also said that the agreement with Gazprom would not affect either the editorial policies of Media-Most’s outlets–which include NTV television, the newspaper Segodnya and Radio Ekho Moskvy–or issues related to personnel. The agreement is to be confirmed in a court hearing set for tomorrow in Moscow.

Gazprom originally sued Media-Most in order to force it to repay the US$211.6 million it had borrowed, and charged that the media holding had transferred assets abroad which it had put up as collateral for the loan. The Prosecutor General’s Office used Gazprom’s complaint as the basis for a criminal investigation into suspected fraud by Gusinsky and his holding. Earlier this month, however, when the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it had summoned Gusinsky for questioning, Deputy Prosecutor General Kolmogorov argued that that Media-Most had committed fraud not only by transferring assets abroad, but also by taking out the loans in the first place, since, according to Kolmogorov, Media-Most and its affiliates had by 1999 suffered “multibillion[-ruble] losses” and assumed debts considerably larger than their total assets. For its part, Media-Most accused the Prosecutor General’s Office of trying to disrupt the holding’s negotiations with Gazprom to reach a settlement on paying off its debts (see the Monitor, November 2).

Gazprom now appears to be trying to intercede with the Prosecutor General’s Office on Media-Most’s behalf: Alfred Kokh, head of Gazprom-Media, the gas giant’s media arm, said today that he had informed Prosecutor General Dmitri Ustinov of the fact that Gazprom and Media-Most had signed an agreement resolving their differences (Russian agencies, November 13). It is difficult to know, however, whether the interests of Gazprom and the Prosecutor General’s Office have now truly diverged vis-a-vis Media-Most, or whether they are engaged in a game of “good cop, bad cop,” with the goal of forcing Gusinsky to surrender control of the media holding. Kokh, it should be noted, was signatory to a deal in July of this year which obliged Gusinsky to sell Media-Most to Gazprom for US$300 million and forgiveness of the US$473 million debt in exchange for the state’s agreement not to prosecute the media tycoon. Gusinsky later renounced the deal, saying that he had signed it under duress. In addition to Gusinsky and Kokh, the agreement also signed by Press Minister Mikhail Lesin (see the Monitor, September 20-21, 28-29, October 2, 4, 13).