MOSCOW — Russian energy giant Gazprom has made a surprise decision to sell 49% of its media holdings, including national channel NTV, to a bank — putting political considerations over financial ones.
Eurofinance will pay $100 million for the stake and assume $600 million in debt.
A Gazprom subsidiary has a minority share in Eurofinance, which is 66% owned by Russian Paris-based bank Eurobank.
Gazprom took control of Media-Most in a boardroom coup in spring 2001 after lengthy and controversial legal and political disputes with founder Vladimir Gusinsky.
Since then, Gazprom has sent contradictory messages about the future of Media-Most.
First, it said it would sell off the noncore investment, probably to a foreign player, and appointed German bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as a consultant in December.
More recently, Gazprom said it would hold the media stake until its sale — in a rapidly rising advertising market — could recoup the substantial sums that Gazprom had invested.
Gazprom also may have an eye on Russia’s presidential elections in February 2004. Its ownership of NTV and other outlets could consolidate media support for President Vladimir Putin’s re-election bid.
The present solution allows Gazprom to keep majority control, as well as take debt off its books. Eurofinance will likely reap political capital long before it sees any real financial return.
The new media outfit will be headed by U.S.-born investment banker Boris Jordan, who took over as director general at NTV last year and later went on to head the Gazprom-Media holding.
Believed to be retained on a three-year contract, Jordan will have the opportunity to buy 5% stakes in the new outfit and NTV.