Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 126

The arrest warrant for TV-6 board chairman Badri Patarkatsishvili for his alleged role in helping former Aeroflot official Nikolai Glushkov try to escape incarceration was issued after TV-6’s minority shareholder, Lukoil-Garant, filed suit to invalidate two TV-6 shareholder meetings. Those meetings, which were held in May, confirmed Yevgeny Kiselev, the former NTV television general director, as TV-6’s general director and Patarkatsishvili as chairman of TV-6’s board. A Moscow court rejected the suit, after which Lukoil-Garant filed another, this time to have TV-6 liquidated as a company. This second suit is still pending (KMnews.ru, June 29; Vedomosti, July 2). Patarkatsishvili has denounced the charges against him as “absurd,” accusing the authorities of trying to “destroy” TV-6 “as in the case with NTV” and saying that he would take “appropriate” measures in response, which he did not specify. Kiselev, for his part, said that it could not be ruled out that there was an underlying political motive for the arrest warrant. Igor Shabdurasulov, a member of TV-6’s board, suggested that the warrant was intended to keep Patarkatsishvili abroad permanently (Vedomosti, July 2; Kommersant, June 30; Presscenter.ru, June 29). Last month, a Russian journalist quoted sources close to the Press Ministry as saying that the Kremlin was preparing “attacks” on TV-6, including searches and arrests (see the Monitor, June 18).

TV-6’s owner, Boris Berezovsky, who went into self-imposed exile last year after publicly criticizing President Vladimir Putin and failing to heed a summons in connection with the Aeroflot case, has thus far not been summoned in connection with Glushkov’s alleged escape attempt. In addition, mention of his name has reportedly been dropped from the official accusations in the Aeroflot case (see the Monitor, June 18). Some observers believe that Berezovsky was dropped from the Aeroflot case after the Sibneft oil company and Russian Aluminum, the giant holding company formed last year and reportedly part-owned by Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, bought a blocking stake in Aeroflot from structures linked to Berezovsky (Moscow Times, June 28).

Berezovsky, meanwhile, claimed last week claimed that he still owns half of Sibneft, which is Russia’s sixth largest oil company, saying that his stake was being managed by a team led by Abramovich, who was once reportedly Berezovsky’s protege. Berezovsky, who by most accounts played a key role in creating and privatizing Sibneft in 1995, said the stake was being managed “absolutely correctly.” His claim to own half of the company followed a Sibneft announcement that a group of companies affiliated with it had bought 27-percent of its shares from Runicom, a trading company also associated with both Abramovich and Berezovsky, for US$541 million. Some observers speculated that these Sibneft shares belonged to Berezovsky–which would mean that Berezovsky made a half a billion dollars on the deal (Kommersant, June 27). Sibneft has repeatedly denied that Berezovsky owns any of its shares, and last week it released an official statement denying his latest ownership claim, saying that he neither held Sibneft shares “directly or indirectly” nor was involved in the distribution of its revenues (Moscow Times, June 28; Russian agencies, June 27).

The conventional wisdom is that while Berezovsky remains a media tycoon–in addition to TV-6, he controls the newspapers Kommersant, Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Novye Izvestia–his overall influence in politics and business has been greatly reduced as a result of Putin’s drive to put the country’s once-powerful oligarchs in their place. It is worth noting, however, Berezovsky’s claim that he still owns half of Sibneft, the speculation that he sold a 27-percent stake in Sibneft for US$541 million and that he has managed to escape prosecution in connection with both the Aeroflot case and Nikolai Glushkov’s alleged escape attempt. Taken together, these suggest either that he is far from being out of the game or that he holds enough cards to negotiate a very profitable exit from it. It is worth recalling that earlier this year he reportedly sold off his 49-percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) for US$80 million, even though he apparently never formally owned the stake (see the Monitor, February 8). Berezovsky, who recently predicted that Putin would not serve out his full term, has said he will soon return to Russia to launch an opposition political party (see the Monitor, June 4).