Gusinsky courting problems

Rulings could force Media-Most's liquidation

MOSCOW — Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most is under attack from creditors after Moscow courts reached two verdicts Tuesday that could send it into liquidation.

Judges upheld an appeal from Moscow tax authorities demanding the company’s closure for violating financial regulations governing the relationship between its founding capital and balance sheet. The case had been lodged against Media-Most and three of its subsidiary companies in December, but was dismissed by a higher court in April.

Another verdict the same day gave the Moscow city government, one of the holding’s major creditors, permission to go after repayment of more than $200 million in debt. It claimed Media-Most has defaulted on installments of $37 million, part of a repayment plan scheduled through February 2003.

Media-Most has made only one payment. The debt arose after accounts were frozen at related company Most Bank during Russia’s August 1998 financial crisis.

Media-Most reps described the result of the first case as continuing the Kremlin’s long-running battle against the parent company of TV station NTV, which has been openly critical of the government.

Advantages seen

However, there’s speculation that liquidating Media-Most would work to Gusinsky’s advantage, if it happens before the company has to surrender a 25% stake in 24 companies to major creditor Gazprom if it can’t redeem a $262 million loan due in July.

Gazprom, the world’s largest natural gas company, took control of NTV in a boardroom coup April 13 to protect its debts.

But if the liquidation goes ahead, Gazprom could receive proceeds from the sale of the other companies without gaining control over them.

Other sources suggest creditors, including the Moscow government, could receive preferential treatment over Media-Most shareholders in the distribution of funds raised from any sale of assets.

Lengthy process

Either way, the process will be long and complex, as Gusinsky admitted in a radio interview on Wednesday. He was speaking on Ekho Moskvy, itself a part of Media-Most, where workers are trying to put together a management buyout.

As well as confirming that he will sell his stakes in NTV, Gusinsky said he will continue in the media business in Russia, with a likely startup investment in the print media.