Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 92

Investigators from the Prosecutor General’s Office carried out searches yesterday at the offices of Radio Ekho Moskvy, the last major outlet of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group to remain outside the direct control of Gazprom, Media-Most’s main creditor. There were contradictory reports in the Russian media over the exact reason for the search., the website recently set up by the journalists from Segodnya, the now-defunct Media-Most newspaper, quoted an official from the Prosecutor General’s Office, Vasily Glushchenko, as saying that the search was connected to an on-air interview conducted last month with Andrei Borovkov, lawyer for Nikolai Glushkov, the jailed former Aeroflot airline executive. Glushkov was jailed on fraud charges last December in connection with the Aeroflot case, in which several Swiss companies connected to the tycoon Boris Berezovsky are suspected of having been used to embezzle funds from Russia’s state airline. Radio Ekho Moskvy interviewed his lawyer shortly after Glushkov was accused of trying to escape from Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison. After that alleged escape attempt, officials from the Prosecutor General’s Office said they were looking into whether Berezovsky and his close associate Badri Patarkatsishvili, who is general director of Berezovsky’s TV-6, had helped plan the abortive jail-break. The Prosecutor General’s Office has summoned Olga Bychkova, the Radio Ekho Moskvy show host who interviewed Glushkov’s lawyer, to appear for questioning today (, May 11;, May 10).

But according to Yury Fedutinov, Radio Ekho Moskvy’s general director, the station was warned last month that it would be asked to provide documents in connection with the ongoing fraud investigation into Gusinsky and Anton Titov, the Media-Most chief financial officer who was arrested in January and remains in a Moscow jail. Fedutinov said that yesterday’s search was part of that investigation (, May 11; see also the Monitor, January 19, 25, 30). The Prosecutor General’s Office reportedly informed Radio Ekho Moskvy last month that it was interested in documents relating to the activities of Most-Bank, Gusinsky’s now-defunct bank, and Media-Most (Kommersant, May 11).

That the motives for the raid on Radio Ekho Moskvy remain murky is no surprise. Following the first raid on Media-Most’s headquarters a year ago, the Prosecutor General’s Office said that it was connected to a probe into the holding’s security service, which was suspected of illegal eavesdropping. Following a subsequent raid, during which Gusinsky was arrested and briefly jailed, investigators said that it had been carried out on the basis of a three-year-old criminal case against Gusinsky for allegedly embezzling state funds from a St. Petersburg company. Several months later the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it was investigating Gusinsky for having committed alleged fraud in taking multimillion-dollar loans from Gazprom for Media-Most.

It is worth noting that yesterday’s raid corresponded with the publication of an article in the Financial Times, in which Radio Ekho Moskvy chief editor Aleksei Venediktov was quoted as saying that the station’s journalists, who hold 33 percent of its shares, had offered Gazprom–which, thanks to a recent court decision, took a majority share in the radio station–a deal by which they, the journalists, would find US$4 million in bank financing to purchase another 25 percent of the station. Such a deal would give the journalists 58 percent of the station–a controlling share (Financial Times, May 10). Venediktov told another newspaper that he and fourteen other journalists were in negotiations with Russian banks and “foreign foundations specializing in support for independent media” about getting financing for the purchase (Kommersant, May 11; see also the Fortnight in Review, May 11). A criminal probe by the Prosecutor General’s Office into Radio Ekho Moskvy–whether connected to Gusinsky probe, the Aeroflot case or something else entirely–might be a way to derail the Radio Ekho Moskvy journalists’ plans to buy the channel from Gazprom while saving the latter from having to reject the deal outright. Such a rejection would make Gazprom vulnerable to accusations that it was part of a politically motivated campaign to silence Media-Most–something the new Gazprom-appointed managers of NTV television, among others, have vehemently denied.