Gazprom formally won a controlling stake in NTV television on May 4, when the Cheryomushkinsky municipal court in Moscow ruled in the gas giant’s favor in a suit brought by Leadville Investment Ltd., a Gazprom proxy, against Media-Most, NTV’s erstwhile parent company. In the court battle, Gazprom argued that Media-Most had violated the terms of an agreement the two sides had reached last November over the latter’s debts, The gas giant demanded ownership rights over a 19-percent stake in NTV and stakes in Media-Most’s other companies, all of which Media-Most had put up as collateral for a US$262 million loan. Gazprom previously owned 46 percent of NTV, but was able to take over the channel’s board and change its management in a controversial NTV shareholders meeting held in early April. The May 4 court decision gives Gazprom formal ownership of a 65-percent stake in NTV.
Under last November’s agreement, Gazprom was supposed to sell the 19-percent stake in NTV to foreign investors through Deutsche Bank. It is possible that Gazprom might still decide to sell an NTV stake. Over the weekend, a newspaper listed the Alfa Group, the powerful pro-Kremlin financial-industrial group headed by Pyotr Aven and Mikhail Fridman, as one possible buyer and Germany’s Kirsch media group as another. According to the paper, Alfa-Group recently extended a US$7 million credit to NTV. The same paper, featured an interview with Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich, who said that he was continuing negotiations with Gusinsky about buying out the latter’s remaining stake in NTV (around 30 percent) but that “many questions” remained (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 5; see also the Monitor, April 19, 24).
The May 4 court decision also awarded Gazprom control of 25-percent-plus-one-share packets in twenty-three other Media-Most companies, including the Seven Days publishing house, which also effectively fell under Gazprom’s control last month after its head switched allegiances from Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky to Gazprom, and Radio Ekho Moskvy, which remains one of the last outposts of the “opposition” Media-Most. Radio Ekho Moskvy’s team of journalists has been in negotiations with Gusinsky and Gazprom about acquiring a controlling share in the radio station, but this possibility looks less likely now, given that the May 4 court decision makes it more likely that Gazprom will block any such a move. Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky denounced the court decision, saying that it represented the biggest threat to Radio Ekho Moskvy’s editorial independence. Media-Most, he said, was considering an appeal (Russian agencies, KMnews.ru, May 4; Kommersant, Moscow Times, May 7).
FOREIGN MINISTRY ATTACKS U.S. FOR NOT ARRESTING GUSINSKY.