Gusinsky’s time running out on NTV

Media Most topper fighting extradition

MOSCOW — Media Most topper Vladimir Gusinsky will hang on to NTV, Russia’s only independent TV station, for a few weeks longer.

Natural resources giant Gazprom, which has a 46% stake, is lobbying for an April 3 general meeting of shareholders after a Moscow court on Thursday upheld its earlier decision forbidding the meeting to be held in Gibraltar on March 12.

Gazprom hopes to elect a board sympathetic to its aims, overturning Gusinsky, who is under house arrest in Spain fighting Moscow’s attempts to extradite him to stand trial on fraud charges.

Gazprom had little chance of doing that in Gibraltar, the location chosen by the pro-Gusinsky board, because the two territories do not recognize each other’s court rulings. If the meeting is held in Moscow, three board members, including Gusinsky, are unlikely to attend as they risk arrest — which may give Gazprom control.

Extradition hearing set

Spanish courts will consider Gusinsky’s extradition on Thursday, but the case could take up to six months.

Meanwhile, litigation over a disputed 19% stake that could give Gazprom control of NTV looks increasingly complicated.

It hinges on whether that stake is pledged as collateral to Gazprom on $262 million due to Credit Suisse First Boston in July, or whether the fact that it has been frozen by Moscow courts also means associated voting rights are annulled.

A Moscow court has postponed a ruling on this matter until Oct. 3.

Insiders believe the Kremlin is forcing a waiting game to keep the pressure on Media Most while it negotiates with a Western investment consortium. That Ted Turner-led group includes Sweden’s Modern Times Group, Soros Fund Management, U.S. fund Capital Research and Management (which has a 4.5% stake in NTV) and Russian investment consultancy ESN, which is linked to local oil magnate Grigory Berezkin.

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