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Raids on Gusinsky media empire

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian prosecutors have carried out further raids on companies owned by media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky.

The latest raids on Friday come one day after the U.S. accused Russian authorities of interfering in the freedom of the media.

Gusinsky, who is fighting extradition from Spain on fraud charges, has accused the Kremlin of trying to take away the independence of his media companies, including the television station NTV -- Russia's only independent broadcaster.

Gusinsky's former rival Boris Berezovsky, one of Russia's most powerful businessman who is in self-imposed exile, has offered to help NTV out of its financial troubles by pledging to hand over $50 million.

Dmitry Ostalsky, spokesman for Gusinsky's Media-Most group, said around 20 officials from the prosecutor-general's officer carried out the raid, about the 30th since prosecutors began investigating Gusinsky.

He said the latest was on a suite of offices housing a personnel section and the bookkeeping department which served Media-Most subsidiaries based in the building.

"I view this as act of desperation by the prosecutor's office," Ostalsky said, adding that prosecutors had confiscated every document from the bookkeeping office.

President Vladimir Putin has said he supports media freedom, and prosecutors have denied their probe into Gusinsky's financial affairs is politically motivated.

But Gusinsky says the real reason for the investigation is to wrest NTV from him and give it to the state-dominated gas giant Gazprom to which he owes huge debts.

Gusinsky has already given up 46 percent of NTV to Gazprom's media arm to settle some of Media-Most's debt. Gazprom claims another 19 percent as security against another loan of more than $250 million, which is due in June.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Thursday condemned a raid by prosecutors on a bank used by Media-Most, which the company said had stopped it making payments and could drive NTV off the air.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Russian Government
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