Some observers have dismissed Boris Berezovsky’s promise to buy out Media-Most’s US$262 million debt as little more than a PR gesture and questioned whether the tycoon has sufficient funds to buy out Media-Most’s debt and offer it a US$50 million loan. Berezovsky recently sold off his 49-percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT)–reportedly to several companies controlled by Roman Abramovich, the oil and aluminum baron who was recently elected governor of Chukotka–for US$80 million (Kommersant, February 8). In addition, while Berezovsky’s position vis-a-vis the authorities is not as precarious as Gusinsky’s, it seems unlikely they would allow him to buy into Media-Most. They would seem to have the means to prevent him from doing so: Last week, Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov said that Berezovsky might be charged in absentia in connection with the Aeroflot case, involving allegations that two Swiss companies set up by the tycoon embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from Russia’s state airline. Kolmogorov, however, said that Berezovsky thus far remains a witness in the case, not a suspect (Radio Ekho Moskvy, February 1). The lead investigator in the Aeroflot probe, Aleksandr Filin, announced yesterday that it would be extended to April 18 of this year (Kommersant, February 7). Last December, two of Berezovsky’s associates, former Aeroflot deputy directors Nikolai Glushkov and Aleksandr Krasnenker, were charged with large-scale fraud, and Glushkov was jailed in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison (see the Monitor, December 8, 2000).
Other observers, however, believe that Berezovsky may be making a serious bid to take over NTV–a media outlet he was once widely thought to covet. Indeed, the Gazeta.ru website noted that if Berezovsky were able to buy out Media-Most’s debt, Gazprom would lose its claim over the 19-percent stake in NTV and Berezovsky himself would become one of Media-Most’s main creditors. Because Gusinsky and Media-Most would probably remain unable to pay off the US$262 million–now to Berezovsky–the tycoon would most likely demand equity in Media-Most subsidiaries, and above all NTV. In addition, the website suggested that Berezovsky’s warnings about the possible emergence of a new Stalin or Hitler in Russia might be aimed mainly at scaring CS First Boston into selling him Media-Most’s debt at a large discount–meaning that the US$80 million he is receiving for his share in ORT might give him enough total funds to pull off such a deal (Gazeta.ru, February 7).
GAZPROM ASKS MEDIA-MOST SHAREHOLDERS TO JOIN FORCES AGAINST GUSINSKY.