21 Months of Purgatory May Await Gusinsky

If Media-MOST owner Vladimir Gusinsky is charged over the next eight days as prosecutors have pledged, he could be sitting in his Butyrskaya Prison cell for two years or more before his case makes it to court.

Dmitry Rozhdestvensky f general director of the Russkoye Video company at the heart of the case against Gusinsky f has been sitting in a Lefortovo Prison cell for some 21 months, charged with misappropriating state funds and tax evasion.

His case may be heard in court in December, said his lawyer, Sergei Afanasiyev, at a news conference in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Itar-Tass reported.

The Prosecutor General's Office said Wednesday that charges will be brought against Gusinsky before the 10-day limit on holding him without charge expires.

Afanasiyev called the arrests of Rozhdestvensky and Gusinsky "twins."

He added that if Gusinsky is charged, then he expects his client to be a co-defendant in the case.

Rozhdestvensky is suspected of helping Media-MOST acquire Russkoye Video in exchange for a $1 million kickback, according to Kommersant. Media-MOST is believed to have paid only $5,000 to acquire more than 70 percent of Russkoye Video's shares, the newspaper, which is owned by tycoon Boris Berezovsky, reported last month.

Since his arrest in St. Petersburg in September 1998, lawyers for the Russkoye Video director have vainly appealed on five separate occasions for his release on health grounds.

Indeed, his ailing health has helped keep his case away from the courts.

Prosecutors said earlier this year that Rozhdestvensky "had failed to read all the investigative materials because he could not walk as far as their offices to read them," Afanasiyev said in February just before the fifth appeal failed.

"There are 41 volumes of documents on this case, which court officials and Rozhdestvensky have to read before a trial," he added.

The Russkoye Video case resurfaced after the May 11 raid on Media-MOST. Investigators seized what they said was bugging equipment used by the holding's security service to eavesdrop on prominent politicians and journalists.

A chief investigator at the Prosecutor General's Office, Vasily Kolmogorov, later said the raid had been ordered to check whether Media-MOST's security service had anything to do with the evidence of alleged eavesdropping found at Russkoye Video.

St. Petersburg investigators raided Russkoye Video in 1998. They said then that they had found evidence that Media-MOST's security service had been tapping conversations with officials in the city's administration and law enforcement agencies, Kommersant reported.

Media-MOST spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky said neither Gusinsky nor Media-MOST had played any part in the privatization of Russkoye Video.

"Russkoye Video had been privatized long before it became Media-MOST's partner," Ostalsky said. "These accusations are evidently made-up."

Rozhdestvensky's arrest came as the result of an investigation into Russkoye Video carried out by the Federal Audit Chamber.

The Audit Chamber f a watchdog body set up by the State Duma f concluded there were grounds to believe Rozhdestvensky had in 1997 embezzled some 10.5 billion rubles (then worth about $1.75 million).

As well as charging him over those allegations, the Prosecutor General's Office alleged in 1998 that Rozhdestvensky had used Russkoye Video's accounts to transfer money to finance then-Mayor Anatoly Sobchak's re-election campaign in 1996 f a campaign managed by then-deputy mayor Vladimir Putin.

Within a month, the charges arising from the Audit Chamber investigation were dropped f as were those connected to Sobchak's campaign finances. Three charges against him remain:

- that he embezzled some 142,500 Finnish marks ($28,000) funneled to him through the accounts of a Lappeenranta advertising business;

- that he stole chairs and green tiles from Russkoye Video's state-owned vacation home in the village of Siverskaya outside of St. Petersburg;

- that he used state resources to purchase a Lada automobile for the director of Channel 11, a Russkoye Video sister company.

In an interview given not long before his arrest in 1998, Rozhdestvensky said the investigation into Russkoye Video was an attempt by the city government to silence his station as one of the few critical voices left among St. Petersburg's media outlets.