Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed yesterday that one of NTV television’s shareholders had received US$1.5 billion “in a dishonest way” and that some of the embattled television channel’s staff had recently received US$6.6 million through “gray schemes” of questionable legality. While Putin–who made his comments during a joint press conference in St. Petersburg with visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder–did not specify to whom he was referring, he was apparently talking about Vladimir Gusinsky, the founder and head of NTV’s parent company, Media-Most. In any case, Gusinsky, who remains under house arrest in Spain awaiting possible extradition to Russian on fraud charges, called Putin’s allegations a lie, telling Radio Ekho Moskvy (also part of Media-Most) that Media-Most neither had US$1.5 billion in outstanding debts nor US$1 billion in such debts–an apparent reference to a claim made last week by Aleksandr Kazakov, a member of Gazprom’s management elected to NTV’s new board of directors on April 3–and insisting that NTV was a profitable company that was paying its taxes (NTV, April 10; see also the Monitor, April 5).
Meanwhile, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who heads an advisory council for NTV, met with Putin yesterday. Afterward, Gorbachev quoted the president as saying that NTV’s journalists should take their complaints about last week’s takeover of the channel by Gazprom-appointed managers to court. Gorbachev also quoted Putin as calling democratic institutions, including a free press, “very important” for the country, that pressure on the media was “unacceptable” and that the loss of NTV and its journalists would also be unacceptable. According to Gorbachev, Putin also said it was necessary to “study” the situation involving NTV’s finances and “impose order” on them (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 9).
JOURNALISTS CONTINUE TO RESIST TAKEOVER.