The Prosecutor General’s Office has filed new charges against Vladimir Gusinsky. This time, the Media-Most founder has been accused of money laundering and, according to a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, Leonid Troshin, the new charges have been forwarded to the Russian office of Interpol, the international police agency, which in turn is forwarding the charges to Interpol offices worldwide. The new charges come just days after a panel of three judges in Spain voted not to honor an international arrest warrant issued earlier by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, which charged Gusinsky of large-scale fraud and requested that he be detained and extradited. The judges decided that the charges against Gusinsky–that he knowingly defrauded Gazprom by borrowing US$300 million which he could not repay for Media-Most–would not carry criminal liability in Spain (see the Monitor, April 19). Following the judges’ decision, the Spanish authorities freed Gusinsky from house arrest and returned the US$5.5 million bail he posted after being detained and jailed in Spain on the Russian warrant last December. They also reportedly returned both his Russian and Israeli passports. Gusinsky was quoted as saying that he did not feel calm in Spain and planned to travel first to Israel and then to New York.
In reaction to the new charges against him, Gusinsky said in an interview with the NTV.ru website–which he still controls–that he was sorry that those in charge in Russia had “learned nothing.” Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky, for his part, dismissed the new charges out of hand. Some observers have noted that the Spanish authorities and those in other countries could take the new charges of money laundering much more seriously than the more vague and questionably criminal fraud charges previously filed against Gusinsky. In any case, it would appear that for the Russian authorities, the goal of jailing Gusinsky has become, as the Gazeta.ru website noted, “a matter of honor” and that they will continue to pursue that goal “even if they get control not only of NTV, but also of all of Media-Most” (Gazeta.ru, NTV.ru, Polit.ru, April 24). At the same time, the Ukrainian tycoon Vadim Rabinovich has confirmed that he plans on buying NTV shares from Gusinsky. Following Gazprom’s takeover of the station, Gusinsky said he was planning to sell off his stake in the channel–a bit more than 30 percent–and that his earlier plans to sell it to CNN founder Ted Turner had fallen through (see the Monitor, April 19).
Two senior Russian officials–Aleksandr Yakovenko, a representative of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, and Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the aide to President Vladimir Putin who was recently put in charge of a new Kremlin information department–have accused Washington of hypocrisy and having a double standard in condemning Gazprom’s takeover of Media-Most’s NTV television. Both stuck to the official Russian government line that the dispute between Gazprom and Media-Most is strictly commercial, comparing it to the dispute between the ABC television network in the United States and its parent company, Walt Disney (NTV.ru, April 12, 23). Last week, the U.S. State Department expressed worries over press freedom in Russia and suggested that Gazprom’s takeover of NTV was politically motivated (see the Monitor, April 19).
Interestingly, Yastrzhembsky, in a separate interview, said that he disagreed with the contention that NTV was the country’s only “opposition” television channel. He said that both TV-6, the Moscow channel in which Boris Berezovsky owns a controlling share, and TV-Tsenter, the channel controlled by the Moscow city government, were also opposition media (Vek, April 20). Given that Luzhkov’s Fatherland movement recently announced its merger with the pro-Putin Unity party, it is difficult to imagine that TV-Tsenter will maintain a genuinely anti-Kremlin editorial policy. Likewise, the fact that Yastrzhembsky identified TV-6 as also being part of “the opposition” suggests two things: first, that the Kremlin may be hoping to set up controlled “opposition” media; and, second, that the relationship between Berezovsky and the Kremlin may not be one of pure enmity, despite the attempts by both sides to make it appear that way. TV-6 recently absorbed a number of the journalists who left NTV after the Gazprom takeover. These include Yevgeny Kiselev, NTV’s ousted general director and chief editor, who was made TV-6’s acting general director.
Meanwhile, the organization Reporters Without Borders has called on the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly to take sanctions against Russia for violating press freedom. In a letter to the assembly, the group expressed surprise that European society had not reacted to the events surrounding NTV and two other Media-Most outlets, the Segodnya newspaper and Itogi magazine, which have been forced to cease publication (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 24).
PRIMAKOV’S GAME IN MOLDOVA.