Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 180

Media-Most founder and owner Vladimir Gusinsky has been summoned to appear again at the Prosecutor General’s Office. The summons, which was issued yesterday, ordered the media magnate to appear for questioning tomorrow (September 29) as a witness. However, Gusinsky’s lawyer, Genri Reznik, said that the summons did not indicate which criminal case the summons was connected with, and that he would recommend his client not to appear at the Prosecutor General’s Office until the investigators explain which case his summons is connected to and on what issues he is to be questioned (Russian agencies, September 28). There is some room for confusion here, given that officials of the Prosecutor General’s Office have indicated that the one criminal case against Gusinsky, launched several years ago and involving the alleged illegal privatization of the St. Petersburg company Russkoye Video, has not been closed. Earlier this year, investigators accompanied by armed commandos raided Media-Most’s headquarters in Moscow, putatively in connection with the Russkoye Video case. In June, Gusinsky was arrested and jailed for several days after answering a summons to appear at the Prosecutor General’s Office to answer questions about a gun seized from his office during the raid. On the other hand, prosecutors have also indicated that they are looking into the claims of Gazprom-Media that Gusinsky reneged on a deal he signed in July, in which he promised to hand over control of Media-Most to Gazprom, the 38-percent state-owned natural gas monopoly, for US$300 million cash and US$473 million in debt forgiveness. After that deal came to light earlier this month, Gusinsky claimed he had signed the deal under pressure from his co-signatories, Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh and Press Minister Mikhail Lesin (see the Monitor, September 20-21).

Gazprom, meanwhile, is suing Media-Most for failing to fulfill the agreement, and bailiffs this week froze the assets of twenty-seven of the thirty-one Moscow-based companies belong to Media-Most and named in Gazprom’s lawsuit. Media-Most, however, apparently transferred the assets of its most valuable and politically important companies–including NTV, its flagship TV channel–to offshore companies last April. Thus Gazprom’s strategy, according to some observers, is to get a court to declare Media-Most bankrupt: According to Russia’s law on bankruptcy, Gazprom would have legal grounds to contest any transfer of assets from Media-Most that occurred up to six months prior to the declaration of bankruptcy. Some observers thus believe that Gusinsky and Media-Most are likely to try and stall the legal proceedings until November–which will be six months after the Media-Most assets were transferred (Kommersant, September 28; Russian agencies, September 26-27).