Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 149

According to several newspaper reports today, Media-Most founder and chief Vladimir Gusinsky cut a deal with the Kremlin to give up NTV, his media holding’s flagship television channel. Late last month, the Prosecutor General’s Office dropped a criminal case against Gusinsky for the alleged embezzlement of US$10 million from the state company Russkoye Video, citing a lack of evidence. Gusinsky spent several nights in prison after he was arrested in May in connection with the case. Today, however, a newspaper cited anonymous officials in the Prosecutor General’s Office as saying that the Russkoye Video investigation is continuing at full steam, and that criminal charges could be filed against Gusinsky once again if new evidence was uncovered. The paper noted that a separate criminal investigation, involving allegations of illegal eavesdropping by the Media-Most group’s security service, is also continuing. The paper painted a picture of prosecutors chomping at the bit to revive the case against Gusinsky, and its Kremlin sources told it that the Kremlin is using the prosecutors’ aggressive mood as a way to make sure that Gusinsky sticks to an agreement he purportedly made–to hand over NTV in return for his freedom. One of the paper’s Kremlin sources said the Kremlin intends to get control of NTV with the help of Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly.

According to various estimates, Gazprom controls either slightly less or slightly more than half of Media-Most’s shares–some 14 percent directly, the rest as collateral for more than US$300 million in loans to the media holding that Gazprom had guaranteed. Gazprom also reportedly holds 14.7 percent of NTV television’s shares directly, and another 15.3 percent indirectly. NTV also received a US$40 million credit from Gazprombank, which is controlled by the natural gas giant (Vedomosti, August 1). Another paper reported today that Gusinsky reached an agreement in principle with Alfred Kokh, the head of Gazprom’s media arm, to sell NTV to the natural gas monopoly for US$150 million. According to this report, a hitch remains: Gazprom wants NTV only, while Gusinsky wants to get rid of Media-Most entirely, given that it is mired in debt. The two sides are continuing to negotiate, the paper reported (Kommersant, August 1).