Media-Most seeks foreign investment

Group offering up to 15% of stock in holding

MOSCOW — Russia’s leading commercial TV and media group, Media-Most, has confirmed that it’s seeking a foreign investor.

News followed months of speculation that the outfit is burdened with debt.

Igor Malashenko, Media-Most’s VP, said recently that the group is offering up to 15% of stock in the holding, but denied that the decision was precipitated by financial problems.

Media-Most has interests in Russia’s top commercial channel NTV as well as in satellite subscription channel NTV-Plus and film distribution, exhibition and production outfits. It was founded six years ago by banker Vladimir Gusinsky, who holds a majority stake.

Media-Most was recently in the news after one local creditor, Vneshekonombank, brought legal action to freeze its accounts over non-repayment of a $40 million loan. Other debts coming due over the next 18 months include obligations to Credit Suisse First Boston of up to $470 million, although Media-Most spokesmen have called such figures exaggerated. Malashenko confirmed that the initial offering of 15% of stock would be the first step in a move to another international listing, which might take place in 2001.

So far, the identity of any prospective buyers is being kept secret, with spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky saying only that Media-Most was considering proposals from a number of investment funds, rather than media players.

Other sources have said that various European media players, including Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, have been approached, while interest from Israel, where Gusinsky has business interests, is also likely.

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