Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 141

The authorities yesterday stepped up their campaign against Media-Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky, when the Prosecutor General’s Office “arrested” the media tycoon’s personal property, including his home in Chigasovo, just outside of Moscow. Investigators from the federal prosecutor’s office and the Federal Security Service (FSB) spent the evening inventorying everything inside the house. The “arrest” of Gusinsky’s property means that he will not be allowed to sell or give it away without permission from the authorities, and could be a prelude to formal seizure.

Gusinsky is being investigated for allegedly embezzling US$10 million or more in state funds by illegally privatizing a state company, Russkoye Video. If found guilty, he could receive five to ten years in prison and see his property confiscated. Valery Nikolaev, the chief investigator of the Prosecutor General’s Office in the Gusinsky case, said yesterday said the authorities planned to “arrest” all of the media tycoon’s property, including that which he allegedly owns abroad, and that they might ask Interpol, the international law enforcement agency, for assistance in doing so. today speculated that the next target for the authorities could be a villa in Spain which, it claimed, Gusinsky owns (Russian agencies, July 19-20). It is interesting to note here that both “Itogi”, the weekly news analysis program on Media-Most’s NTV television, and Segodnya, Media-Most’s daily newspaper, have charged that Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov received an apartment worth US$400,000 from the Kremlin’s “property” department when that department was headed by Pavel Borodin, whom the Swiss authorities have accused of laundering bribes through Swiss banks. Thus the latest action against Gusinsky may be in part motivated by revenge.

Whatever the case, one of Gusinsky’s lawyers, Pavel Astakhov, speculated that the authorities would next attempt to seize Gusinsky’s shares in NTV television and other Media-Most outlets. Some observers said that it would be difficult for the authorities to seize the shares, given that Media-Most’s outlets have complicated ownership structures. The investigators’ goal at this stage may be simply to intimidate Gusinsky and Media-Most further, these observers said. Likewise, Astakhov said the action was aimed at “paralyzing” the media holding. Russian agencies, citing the magazine Kult Lichnostei (Cult of Personality), reported yesterday that Gusinsky owns 64.4 percent of Media-Most’s shares (Russian agencies, July 19: Moscow Times, July 20).

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General’s Office is reportedly poised to make a push on another front in the war against the oligarchs. A newspaper reported today that it is planning to file a suit in Russia’s arbitration court in order to invalidate the privatization of Norilsk Nickel by Oneksimbank. While the State Duma yesterday refused to take up a motion calling for Norilsk’s privatization to be reconsidered, the paper wrote that the Duma will soon call on the Prosecutor General’s Office to declare the Norilsk privatization invalid (Kommersant, July 20). Earlier this month, that office sent a letter to Vladimir Potanin, Oneksimbank’s founder and head of the Interros financial-industrial group, demanding that he pay the state US$140 million, on the grounds that in 1995 he had colluded with the State Privatization Committee to purchase a controlling stake in the metal’s plant for an artificially low price (see the Monitor, July 12). Last month, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office filed a suit contesting Norilsk’s privatization, but the Moscow arbitration court dismissed it for having too many charges against too many entities (see the Monitor, June 22).