Vladimir Gusinsky, founder and head of the Media-Most holding, was arrested yesterday and jailed for his alleged involvement in embezzling more than US$10 million in state funds through the St. Petersburg company Russkoye Video. The arrest took place yesterday evening and, according to a Media-Most spokesman, came several hours after Gusinsky voluntarily appeared for questioning at the Prosecutor General’s Office about ammunition for a pistol he received several years ago as a reward from the government. Gusinksy was jailed in Moscow’s notorious Butyrka prison (Russian agencies, June 13; Moscow Times, June 14). The fact that he was placed in Butyrka and not Lefortovo prison, where high-ranking or VIP suspects are generally incarcerated, gave some observers further reason to believe that the arrest was the culmination of the Kremlin’s long battle with Gusinsky, whose media outlets have openly criticized President Vladimir Putin and his policies and the group of Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders known as the “Family.” On May 11 of this year, hundreds of armed security agents and prosecutors raided Media-Most’s headquarters in Moscow, after which they carried out hours of searches and seized various documents. Government spokesmen said at the time that the raid was in connection with alleged illegal eavesdropping carried out by Media-Most’s security service (see the Monitor, May 12, 16, 24, June 2, 5, 8).
Gusinsky’s lawyer, Genri Reznik, was able to meet with his client in prison today, after which he challenged the legality of Gusinsky’s arrest (NTV, June 14). Putin denied prior knowledge of the arrest, saying yesterday that it had been both a surprise and a “dubious present,” adding that he hoped the Prosecutor General’s Office had “enough cause” for the arrest (Russian agencies, June 13). Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said today that he believed that the Prosecutor General’s Office did have sufficient grounds (NTV, June 14). Some observers have pointed to the moves against Gusinsky, along with the fact that a majority of the key posts in the new government cabinet went to reputed “Family” allies as evidence that Putin is not acting independently, but according to the Family’s interests. Meanwhile, Igor Malashenko, Media-Most’s first deputy, flew to Madrid to try to meet with Putin and discuss the arrest. Malashenko planned to hold a press conference today in Madrid’s Ritz Hotel, where Putin is staying. The Russian president’s security detail, however, nixed Malashenko’s plans, saying the press conference would be a threat to Putin’s security. Malashenko plans to hold a press conference today in another Madrid hotel (NTV, June 14).
REACTION TO GUSINSKY’S ARREST GENERALLY NEGATIVE.