Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 131

An 85 percent stake in “Kommersant,” Russia’s influential business-political daily newspaper, has been purchased by American Capital, a British Virgin Islands-registered investment fund run by two young Americans of Iranian descent–Kia Joorabchian and Reza Irani-Kermani. According to unconfirmed reports, the fund, which has a charter capital of US$50 million, paid US$20 million for the stake. Vladimir Yakovlev, “Kommersant” publisher, said in an interview published July 7 that he sold the controlling stake to American Capital to keep the paper out of Russia’s election-season battles. But Yakovlev also said there was no guarantee that the paper would not eventually end up in the hands of Russian oligarchs (Kommersant, July 6). Yakovlev’s statement given credence by the fact that the new owners said that their purpose in buying “Kommersant” was to raise share value for subsequent re-sale.

Whatever the case, many observers still strongly suspect that in purchasing the controlling “Kommersant” stake, American Capital was working on behalf of a Russian oligarch–perhaps the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who had previously openly announced that he would try to purchase the publication. As Berezovsky reportedly said, “At least I am not aware that it [American Capital] has anything to do with me. If something different is known to someone else, it would be interesting to me” (Moscow Times, July 7). Badri Patarkatsishvili, one of Berezovsky’s long-time associates, was quoted by “Kommersant” editor-in-chief Raf Shakirov as saying that Berezovsky-controlled organizations had bought the remaining 15-percent stake in the newspaper (Russian agencies, July 6). If this report is true, and if American Capital was indeed acting as a front for Berezovsky in buying a controlling share, it would mean that the tycoon now has complete control over Russia’s most influential newspaper.