Media-Most founder and head Vladimir Gusinsky flew to Spain to visit his family today after the Prosecutor General’s Office dropped its conditions that Gusinsky, who is under investigation for allegedly embezzling state funds, not leave Moscow during the course of investigation. The office had repeatedly turned down requests by Gusinsky’s lawyers that he be allowed to travel abroad. Earlier today, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it had lifted the restrictions on Gusinsky’s movements, after which Media-Most lawyer Pavel Astakhov announced that the criminal case against Gusinsky had been dropped entirely and that the “arrest” of his property, which was impounded last week (see the Monitor, July 20), had been lifted. There were contradictory reports throughout the morning and early afternoon as to whether the criminal charges have indeed been dropped. Vladimir Lysenko, who is in charge of high-profile investigations in the Prosecutor General’s Office, said that they had not been. He confirmed, however, that the ban on travel on the media magnate had been lifted. At the same time, a separate criminal investigation–into alleged illegal eavesdropping by the Media-Most group’s security service–will continue. Following Lysenko’s comments, Radio Ekho Moskvy, which is part of Media-Most, reported that the criminal case against Gusinsky had indeed been ended on the order of Valery Nikolaev, an investigator in the Prosecutor General’s Office. The National News Service website posted what it said was a photograph of Nikolaev’s order (Radio Ekho Moskvy, Russian agencies, July 27).
It is not yet clear what motivated the Prosecutor General’s Office sudden “leniency” toward Gusinsky. The Gazeta.ru web news analysis service reported today that an agreement to free Gusinsky was reached late last week. According to the service, Media-Most was set to announce on July 20 that the ownership of NTV, its flagship television channel, had been transferred to an unidentified Western media magnate, thus rendering the Kremlin’s attempts to take NTV in hand “futile.” The press conference announcing NTV’s new owner was canceled at the last moment, Gazeta.ru reported, suggesting that the Kremlin and Media-Most reached an agreement which included lifting the restriction on Gusinsky’s movements (Russian agencies, July 27). A newspaper reported today that in exchange for his freedom, Gusinsky promised to “soften the position of the NTV television channel toward the state” (Kommersant, July 27). NTV has, to varying degrees, been critical of President Vladimir Putin, alleged Kremlin corruption and the war in Chechnya.
PUTIN AND OLIGARCHS SET TO MEET TOMORROW.