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Armed police raid Moscow media company

May 11, 2000
Web posted at: 10:07 p.m. EDT (0507 GMT)

MOSCOW -- The headquarters of the major Russian independent broadcaster NTV and its parent company Media-Most were raided by armed tax police Thursday.

The company, which belongs to media mogul Vladimir Gussinsky and often is critical of the Kremlin, was stormed by regiments of tax police, as well as officers from the general prosecutor's office and the Federal Security Service.

The Media-Most press service told CNN that armed people in masks and camouflage uniforms had blocked Media-Most headquarters Thursday morning, prompting anxious glances in the direction of new President Vladimir Putin.

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VideoCNN's Jill Dougherty reports on the armed government raid of the offices of the Media-Most holding company, whose television station and print media have been critical of President Vladimir Putin's government.
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The police and the Federal Security Service, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said the raid was part of a probe into the Media-Most group and was not a political action aimed at stifling free speech.

CNN was told that all telephones of Media-Most personnel inside the two buildings were disconnected.

The search lasted around 12 hours, into the late evening.

"It is obvious that what is happening is a factor of political pressure," Media-Most Chairman Vladimir Gussinsky told NTV at a Moscow airport after returning from Israel.

He said officials in the Kremlin and in Russia's security forces were angry with some of NTV's programs, particularly a satirical show called Kukli (puppets).

NTV went live from the site, calling the accident "an example of lawlessness and arbitrariness."

Russia's FSB domestic intelligence service said the raid was in connection with a criminal case against Media-Most.

"I'd like to repeat once more, as far as I know this is a regular financial offense," FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said.

"What is going on around this is an attempt to turn it into political matter," Zdanovich added. "There is no question of pressure on journalists or the freedom of the press."

However, in a later television interview, he made no mention of financial matters and said the probe was aimed at people who had gathered information illegally with listening devices.

Igor Malashenko, deputy chairman of Media-Most's board of directors, said the motives for the raid were clearly political.

"It is obvious to me that we are stuck in an unprecedented situation when on the fourth day of work of the new president of Russia, action is taken which contradicts the norms of Russia's constitution and is against freedom of speech," Malashenko told a news conference.

"Putin does not have the right to stay quiet, and I think this action is a very worrying symptom, and puts into question the new Russian leadership."

Malashenko said he did not know whether Putin, who met CNN founder Ted Turner on Thursday, had sanctioned the raid.

Politicians such as liberal Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov also criticized the raid.

Media-Most has a long and contentious history of relations with different law enforcement bodies in Russia. Ex-president Boris Yeltsin's Security Service raided Media-Most headquarters in central Moscow in 1996, disarming and detaining all security personnel.

The government said it was demonstrating "who's in charge" after a conflict between Yeltsin and Gussinsky over who could drive motorcades over so-called "government routes."

Producer Alexey Mayorov and Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Media-Most (in Russian)
Russian Government
Political Resources on the Net - Russia

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