Russian TV feud grows stronger

Minority shareholder takes TV-6 to court to reclaim alleged debt

MOSCOW — Conflict between Russia’s independent television net TV-6 and its minority shareholder, the Lukoil-Garant pension fund, continues to grow after a fully-owned Lukoil subsid started court action Oct. 18 to reclaim an alleged debt of $5 million from the channel.

The proceedings were initiated by Television Service News (TSN), which since 1999 has been 100%-owned by Lukoil-Garant. They concern supposed unpaid fees for provision of news broadcasting programs to the channel between 1997-99.

75% of TV-6 stock belongs to structures affiliated to Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, with 15 % held by Lukoil-Garant.

Lukoil won a Moscow arbitration court ruling Sept. 27 which could result in the channel’s liquidation, despite its move into profit this year, and Berezovsky followed Oct. 17 with an open letter to Lukoil president Vagit Alekperov offering to buy out his stake for $10 million.

TSN says that TV-6 broke contract obligations and left unpaid debts when it opened its own news department in 1999 after Berezovsky took a controlling stake in the station.

TV-6 sources expressed surprise that court proceedings were being initiated more than two years later, with Berezovsky claiming that they “went against all previous agreements.”

“All that the Lukoil-controlled companies are now doing goes beyond the boundaries of conventional business. The liquidation decision and the TSN action are links in a chain, the end purpose of which will be the closure of TV-6, or its transformation into a company controlled by other, state-dependent structures,” Berezovsky told a Moscow radio station.

Many Moscow media observers see current action against TV-6 as an indirect continuation of Kremlin pressure which brought on management change at Russia’s leading commercial channel NTV back in April.

Most of NTV’s top journalists, led by DG Yevgeny Kiselyev, left NTV to join TV-6, where many of their trademark news and current affairs show are now broadcast.

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