Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 6

The American media mogul Ted Turner is currently negotiating a possible large investment in one of Russian media companies and, according to the Russian state news agency Itar-Tass, that company may be NTV, the flagship television channel of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group. Itar-Tass quoted Turner–the founder of CNN and a vice president of CNN parent company Time-Warner–as saying yesterday that he has been working on a large investment project with a Russian company whose identity he could not reveal at this point, but added that it was possibly NTV. Turner noted that “they”–presumably meaning NTV and Media-Most–are currently seeking an international investor. He said that the negotiations involved in his investment project were complicated but that he hoped they would work out (Russian agencies, January 9).

Last November, after on-again-off-again negotiations, Media-Most and its main creditor, the partially state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom, reached an agreement by which Gazprom-Media, the gas giant’s media arm, will get a so-called blocking share–meaning 25 percent plus one share–of all of Media-Most’s companies except NTV as repayment for US$211 million in debt. Another 25 percent of the companies will be given to Gazprom as collateral for a US$262 million debt which comes due next year. At the same time, 16 percent of NTV will go to Gazprom-Media, which already owns 30 percent of the channel, and another 19 percent will serve as collateral. The collateral will be added to another Media-Most share to create a 25-percent-plus-one-share stake, which will be sold to an unspecified foreign investor (see the Monitor, November 20, 2000). It now appears that this foreign investor could be Turner. Last May, Turner met with President Vladimir Putin a day after prosecutors and armed police commandos conducted a raid on Media-Most’s headquarters in Moscow (see the Monitor, May 12, 2000). In 1994, Turner had close contacts with the administration of then St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak because the city hosted the Goodwill Games, which Turner sponsored. Putin at that time was Sobchak’s deputy.

In the meantime, Gusinsky himself remains in custody in Spain, where he was released on a US$5.5 million bail after being arrested and briefly jailed there on an international warrant issued by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. The warrant involves charges that Gusinsky and Media-Most defrauded Gazprom by taking out loans which, the prosecutors allege, exceeded the total value of Media-Most’s assets (see the Monitor, December 13, 2000). The fact that Media-Most and Gazprom reached an agreement to pay off the former’s debts has not affected the Russia prosecutors’ determination to prosecute the media magnate. Last week, a Moscow city court overturned a December 26 ruling by a lower court, which had declared the criminal case against Gusinsky unsubstantiated. Media-Most has vowed to appeal this latest court ruling, to Russia’s Supreme Court, if necessary (Russian agencies, Associated Press, January 4). The Spanish authorities, meanwhile, are considering whether to extradite Gusinsky back to Russia.