Russian Court Orders Media-Most Liquidation
The Moscow Arbitration Court’s appeals board ruled in favor of Russian tax officials who said the holding company should be dissolved because its debts outweighed its assets.
Today’s ruling overturns an earlier decision from the Arbitration Court last month to throw out the suit. The court said filing liquidation suits was beyond the jurisdiction of tax authorities.
A Media-Most spokesman said the company will appeal the decision.
Nonetheless, the ruling means more bad news for Media-Most, which has been slowly disassembled since last fall.
The company lost its main television holding, nationwide television station NTV, to a boardroom takeover by the state-owned gas company Gazprom in April. Soon after, Gazprom seized and closed its daily newspaper, Segodnya, and fired the staff of its news magazine, Itogi.
Gusinsky, who fled Russia for Spain and finally Israel because of his own legal problems, maintains the government has unfairly targeted his media outlets because they were critical of the Kremlin’s policies, most notably the war in Chechnya.
“I have the feeling that the authorities are trying, purely through inertia, to destroy everything connected with the word ‘Most,’” Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky told the Associated Press.
But government officials say their goal has been to force powerful tycoons like Gusinsky to face their financial misdeeds.
Gazprom replaced NTV’s board of directors immediately after its takeover, placing a Russian-born American businessman in charge of the station’s daily operations.
While NTV is still broadcasting, many of the journalists behind the station — once Russia’s only independent nationwide TV outlet — struck out for smaller operations to avoid government control.
Gusinsky’s personal problems
Gusinsky’s legal woes came to a head last summer after government raids on his offices in May. He was arrested and jailed for three days in June on embezzlement charges.
Russian prosecutors claim the media mogul misrepresented the assets of his company in 1998, when he accepted loans of more than $300 million guaranteed by Gazprom. They say his companies were legally bankrupt at the time.
To get out of jail, Gusinsky agreed to sign over control of his businesses to Gazprom, but, after getting out of jail and subsequently fleeing the country, Gusinsky said the deal was struck under duress.
Afterward, Gusinsky began a self-imposed exile in Spain, spending several months under house arrest while fighting extradition to Russia.
Gusinsky, who holds dual Russian and Israeli citizenship, moved to Israel last month.
Shortly after he left Spain, Russian authorities charged Gusinsky with laundering nearly $100 million connected with his loans from Gazprom. In an interview with Reuters last month, he shrugged off the new charges, maintaining they, like the others lodged against him, are politically motivated.
“Many of my friends call me and say: ‘We know many things about you, but laundering money? I think it’s funny,’” he said.
He said Israel is not likely to extradite him to Russia, since immigrants from the former Soviet Union hold political clout there. Nonetheless, he said he went to Israel to pursue business interests and celebrate the country’s 53rd anniversary — not to evade arrest.