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Putin accused of NTV plot

Gusinsky: Takeover was like a KGB operation  

SOTOGRANDE, Spain (CNN) -- Russian tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky has accused President Vladimir Putin of directing the takeover of his independent television company NTV.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Jill Dougherty, Gusinsky said Putin "pulled the plug" on NTV to prevent the major problems facing his administration from being highlighted by the station.

Gusinsky's firm has been taken over by Gazprom -- a company in which the Kremlin is a major stakeholder -- prompting fears that NTV's independent, and often critical, voice will be silenced.

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  •  VIDEO: Vladimir Guskinsky interview
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  •  Profile: Vladimir Gusinsky

He said: "I am sure that every major decision, including the night-time takeover of NTV was sanctioned, unfortunately, by the president.

"I am sure Putin knows and is directing all the details of what is going on. This is his major mistake.

"The so-called "Operation NTV" is really like a special operation of the KGB which Putin represents."

Gusinsky was speaking in Sotogrande, Spain, after efforts to have him extradited to Moscow on fraud charges were dropped by the Spanish prosecutor.

The prosecutor, who had been acting on behalf of the Russian authorities, said he would not appeal against a decision by Spain's high court to reject an extradition request from Moscow.

Gusinsky maintained that the charges were part of a campaign by the Kremlin to silence its critics.

He added: "The government is in a dilemma. They have to decide the problem of Chechnya. They have to decide the problem of heat, pensions, crime, and corruption.

"It is much easier to unplug NTV and then there won't be any problems."

Of the fraud charges against him, he said "Everything they said about the financial details -- this myth is completely destroyed. It is obvious to everyone this is a lie."

He said he now plans to sell all of his stock in NTV because it "is now a different company." He also has to decide what to do with his magazine Itogi.

"This means the end of my imprisonment in Spain," he added.

"Tens of thousands of people came out on the streets for demonstrations last week and they weren't there to support Vladimir Gusinsky or the correspondents.

"They were there to defend their right to know the truth about what is happening in the world."

Asked if he used his media outlets for political purposes he replied: "Russia is a country that began to build democracy and we are still learning how to do that -- and I am too.

"But now, what is my political aim? To make sure our company tells the truth about the war in Chechnya. To tell the truth about how people are freezing in Russia's Far East, or what happened to the submarine Kursk.

"There is no political aim. Our aim is to carry out our work professionally."

Gusinsky said his next move is "to define how I'm going to live, what I am going to do next."

He said: "It is obvious the Russian government will not rest on its 'successes.' The opponent must be destroyed. If the opponent is alive and free then the government is not effective."

Meanwhile in Russia on Friday, renegade NTV journalists -- who led a highly public campaign against the takeover -- dropped a lawsuit challenging the action because a similar case is to be heard in another court, the station's parent company told the Associated Press news agency.

Gazprom, which says it holds 46 percent of the network's shares because of a large parcel of stock it claims as loan collateral from Gusinsky, purged the station's leadership after teaming up with U.S.-based Capital Research, which holds 4.4 percent.

Capital Research said its representatives had abstained from voting at the April 3 shareholders' meeting but it accepted the result. Gazprom's media arm has said the presence of Capital Research representatives was enough to make the meeting valid regardless of whether they voted.

However Guskinsky's Media-Most, the company that founded NTV, insists the meeting was illegal and has filed suits with the Moscow Arbitration Court to have both the shareholders' meeting and the NTV leadership change invalidated.

A group of the station's journalists had filed a similar lawsuit with a district court in Moscow, but Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky said that case was to be dropped as a "technical, tactical step."

"We are not giving up our struggle," he added.

Profile: Vladimir Gusinsky
April 10, 2001
Fear amid Gusinsky's media empire
April 17, 2001
Ex-NTV staff vow to set up rival
April 14, 2001

Russian Government

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