Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 174

The latest round of accusations and counteraccusations between Media-Most and the authorities has already become extremely bitter. Yesterday Yevgeny Kiselev, the general director of NTV, Media-Most’s flagship television channel, charged that the Prosecutor General’s Office had coordinated its actions against Media-Most with Gazprom-Media’s Kokh and Press Minister Mikhail Lesin. Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said in response that his office had not been involved in any way in the “negotiations” between Gazprom and Media-Most and had never discussed the issue with Lesin. Ustinov called such accusations “an attempt to apply pressure on the investigation,” insisting that his office “does not involve itself in politics” and only upholds the law. Leonid Troshin, who heads the press section of the Prosecutor General’s Office, said that the office was only reacting to “a corresponding signal about the possible fact of a law violation.” It was obliged, he said, to assess any possible violations of the law including “the possible withdrawal abroad of assets that are being held as security [for debts].”

Kiselev countered Ustinov by claiming that Lesin on several occasions had, in the presence of Media-Most deputy head Igor Malashenko, phoned Ustinov to discuss the negotiations over Media-Most’s fate. Responding to Troshin’s comment, Kiselev said that if the spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office is so concerned with investigating possible violations of the law, his office should once and for all confirm whether Ustinov had paid US$140,000 in taxes owned on an apartment he allegedly received several years ago from Pavel Borodin (Russian agencies, September 20). Borodin then headed the Kremlin’s property department and later became a central figure in the so-called Mabetex case, involving allegations that several Swiss firms paid multimillion-dollar bribes to Borodin and other officials in return for lucrative contracts to refurbish Russian government buildings. Media-Most’s NTV and Segodnya newspaper broke the story of Ustinov’s apartment earlier this year, accusing him of a conflict of interest in the Mabetex case (see the Monitor, July 12, 20).

Kiselev and other top officials and editors from Media-Most held a press conference yesterday, during which Aleksei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy, the holding’s radio station, said that they had asked for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the renewed controversy. Meanwhile, in a sign of just how heated the controversy is becoming, Kiselev said yesterday that Media-Most was considering a suit against former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for comments he made yesterday morning. Chernomyrdin, who once headed Gazprom, said the latest battle between the gas giant and Media-Most showed the “unscrupulousness” of the latter (Russian agencies, September 19-20).