Media Firm Searched Over Tax Suspicions

Moscow police said Thursday that a search of the offices of the Russian Media Group holding had been performed in connection with a criminal investigation into charges of tax evasion.

"The search, which was carried out all day Wednesday, is linked to a criminal case opened because they didn't pay a large sum of taxes," a law enforcement agency source said Thursday, Interfax reported.

About 20 investigators were involved in the search at the offices at Russian Media Group, one of the country's largest radio broadcast holdings, which includes the popular Russkoye Radio station.

Investigators of the Northern Administrative District branch of the Moscow City Police, and the investigative committees of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office and the Interior Ministry carried out the search, which began at 10 a.m. and finished at around 8 p.m., Interfax reported.

The employees had to wait in the building's hallways and were prohibited from using their cell phones during the search, Kommersant reported Thursday.

The signal from the Russian News Service, which provides hourly news broadcasts to the group's member stations, was cut off Wednesday at around noon, when investigators started examining the service's server.

As of Thursday, the service's broadcasts had returned to their regular schedule.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Media Group refused to comment on the issue Thursday.

Spokesmen for the Moscow City Police and the investigative committees of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office and the Interior Ministry said no information about the search was yet available.

Besides Russkoye Radio and Russian News Service, Russian Media Group includes Radio Monte Carlo, Radio DFM, Radio Hit FM, Radio Maximum and Radio Dobriye Pesni.

It also owns the television music channel, recording company Gramophone-Records, the Gramophone and Roskontsentrom advertisement agencies and Pingvin magazine.

A group of senior executives at LUKoil, the country's biggest independent oil producer, own a 78 percent stake in Russian Media Group through the Management Center, Capital Investments and Mediainvest companies, while the remaining 22 percent belongs to the group's general director, Sergei Kozhevnikov, Kommersant reported.

Russian Media Group reported revenues of $62 million and a profit of $17 million for 2007, Kommersant reported.

In the period from January to March, the group's radio stations had a combined audience of 36.5 million, with Russkoye Radio alone accounting for more than 10 million listeners, according to TNS Gallup Media.

A source in the Russian Media group said Thursday that the director of Russian News Service, Alexander Shkolnik, had resigned, Interfax reported.

"As of June 1, [Shkolnik] is no longer the general director," the source said.

Seven journalists at Russian News Service resigned in May 2007, complaining that their reports on a Dissenter's March and a dispute between Russia and Estonia, among others, were being censored by new management.

Shkolnik joined the agency from state-controlled Channel One television.