MOSCOW, Nov. 13 — The Russian
media mogul Vladimir V. Gusinsky,
a fierce critic of his government
and deeply in debt, tentatively agreed
today to give up control of his publishing
and broadcasting empire to the country's
natural gas monopoly, which is controlled
by the Russian government.
The agreement, which is subject to court
review, raises questions about the level
of independence Mr. Gusinsky's company
will retain after the gas company
becomes its largest single shareholder
with a 46 percent stake. Mr. Gusinsky's
company, Media-Most, owns the nation's
leading independent television station —
NTV — and his news programs and
publications have been critical of Kremlin
Mr. Gusinsky, who left Russia last July
after being imprisoned briefly on fraud
charges, is in Europe. Although the charges against him
were dropped last
summer, Russian prosecutors want to question him again
and today opened
a criminal case against him on fraud charges and issued
a warrant for his
arrest. He will not return to Russia for questioning,
his lawyers said.
President Vladimir V. Putin has made no secret of his
antipathy toward Mr.
Gusinsky, perhaps the single biggest target in a
government campaign of
legal and political pressure against prominent Russian
influenced politics in the 1990's. Mr. Gusinsky, the
main political opponent
of Mr. Putin, was the only one of those men who had to
give up property.
The latest charges against Mr. Gusinsky were widely seen
government's way of keeping him out of politics, and out
of the country.
Mr. Gusinsky's weak financial condition was his main
downfall. He borrowed
heavily to pay for several expensive projects including
a new satellite. One
of his creditors was the country's gas monopoly,
Gazprom, whose affairs
are heavily influenced by the government, its biggest
continues to owe money to Gazprom, which has used the
debt as its chief
lever to weaken Mr. Gusinsky's grip on his company.
Today's agreement, which was concluded over the weekend,
a 46 percent stake in the company, the largest single
amount, and reduces
Mr. Gusinsky's holding to 35 percent from a controlling
stake, said Alfred
Kokh, the Gazprom executive leading the talks.
Another 19 percent will be held by Gazprom as collateral
for a loan that
comes due next year. Under the agreement, that stake
will be put up for
sale to a foreign investor. Gazprom hired Deutsche Bank
to help find a
buyer. The gas company said it had not decided what to
do with its stake.
The agreement caps months of negotiations between
Media-Most over money owed to Gazprom.
Though the government has said it was not involved in
between the two companies, Russia's press minister,
Mikhail Lesin, brokered
a deal between them in the summer that would have given
majority stake in the media company.
Although a Media-Most spokesman said the television
station staff and
editorial policies would remain unchanged, analysts were
"This is a very shaky situation for NTV," said Liliya
associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace. "It is the
crown jewel and we have no guarantee that the current
hold on to their jobs."
Vladimir Gusinsky's case