Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 17

Yesterday investigators from the Prosecutor General’s Office, accompanied by Federal Security Service officers, once again raided Media-Most’s headquarters in Moscow. The investigators questioned two of the holding’s translators and then searched both their apartments and the apartment of an employee of the holding’s finance department. Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky called the latest raid “another instance of psychological pressure.” Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency today quoted “informed sources in the law enforcement organs” as saying that the investigation into Media-Most will be “even more activated” in the coming days, and that ten to fifteen more of Media-Most’s staff might be arrested. The arrests, if they occur, will be made gradually. Yevgeny Kiselyov, general director of Media-Most’s NTV television channel, said that yesterday’s raid was the twenty-seventh since prosecutors began investigating Vladimir Gusinsky, Media-Most’s founder (Russian agencies, NTV, January 24-25; Moscow Times, January 25). The first raid on a Media-Most outlet in the current campaign against it took place in July 1999, when tax police visited the offices of Seven Days, Gusinsky’s publishing house, a day after Itogi, the weekly news analysis program hosted by Kiselev, ran a segment alleging that Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin had been involved in two pyramid schemes, the All Russian Automobile Alliance (AVVA) and Chara bank (see the Monitor, July 20, 1999).

Earlier this week, Media-Most’s CFO Anton Titov, who was jailed earlier this month, was charged with large-scale fraud, the same charges brought against Gusinsky, who is presently under house arrest in Spain, awaiting possible extradition to Russia. The prosecutors alleged that Gusinsky and Titov were part of a criminal conspiracy to defraud Gazprom, Media-Most’s largest creditor. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to five to ten years in prison and see their property confiscated. Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov met this week with Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who will decide Gusinsky’s fate. The prosecutor general himself, Vladimir Ustinov, said that documents had been handed over to the Spanish authorities which “should fully confirm that a crime was committed, connected with theft through fraud by Gusinsky, and may become grounds for his extradition to Russia.” The latest twists in the Media-Most controversy followed the news that a group of foreign investors led by CNN founder Ted Turner were willing to pay at least US$300 million for stakes in NTV and other Media-MOST outlets as long as President Vladimir Putin guaranteed that the Kremlin would not try to influence NTV’s coverage. Boris Gryzlov, head of the pro-Putin Unity faction in the State Duma, said after a meeting with the president that Putin said it would “not at all be a bad thing” if Turner were to buy into Media-Most. But both Gryzlov and Sergei Ivanov, head of the Kremlin’s Security Council, rejected the idea of giving Turner political guarantees (Moscow Times, January 22, 24; Russian agencies, January 23). Gazprom, which already controls 46 percent of NTV, has filed suit to get control of another 19 percent of the channel, which Media-Most put up as collateral for a loan which comes due this summer. Gazprom claims Media-Most lost the right to the 19-percent NTV stake by violating the terms of an agreement to pay off its debts reached by both sides late last year. Media-Most owes the gas giant nearly US$300 million.

In an interview published today in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Gusinsky declared: “Against me coincide the interests of the president of the country, part of the political elite and the prosecutor General’s Office, which does not want to remain without its piece of the pie” (Russian agencies, January 25).