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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky: Give Me ORT or Take It Back

Tycoon and State Duma Deputy Boris Berezovsky has said he is "seriously thinking" of returning to the state his 49 percent stake in ORT television, the nation's biggest broadcaster.

Speaking in a live interview with Radio Liberty on Thursday, Berezovsky presented the government with a stark "put up or shut up" ultimatum: start financing ORT from the state budget - in which case he would hand over the shares - or give the tycoon a full controlling stake in the television company.

"I have always said that ORT is not a business for me," Berezovsky said in the Radio Liberty interview. "I don't want to spend a lot of money on it, like any normal person. I have never received economic profits from ORT. Political [profits] - unlimited; economic - none, hugely in the negative. So, you understand: Hundreds of millions of dollars were thrown into ORT from another business, while one could have bought a small house in the Bahamas."

Berezovsky's ultimatum dovetails neatly with recent statements from ORT management. After the annual general shareholders meeting for the company held June 20, ORT general director Konstantin Ernst said the government should either provide funding for ORT in the federal budget or allow private shareholders to invest in the station in exchange for additional shares.

A letter laying out the demand will soon be sent to the Cabinet, Ernst said. ORT officials could not say Monday whether such a letter had been sent.

During the Radio Liberty interview, Berezovsky also confirmed for t he first time that he does control - through several intermediate companies - all of the 49 percent of ORT that is in private hands. The government holds the remaining 51 percent, but Berezovsky is widely believed to call the shots.

At the June 20 shareholders meeting, Berezovsky went public with his control over ORT. Berezovsky's daughter, Yekaterina, was added to the ORT board, along with anchor Sergei Dorenko - a longtime Berezovsky ally. A majority of the 11 ORT board members are linked to the tycoon.

Berezovsky explained his desire to hand ORT back by saying that his links with ORT are now causing him sufficient political damage to outweigh the gains. Many people who want to set him at odds with President Vladimir Putin and his administration are using his connections with ORT - particularly with anchor Dorenko, widely referred to as "Berezovsky's bulldog" - against him.

"I could suffer this all when I considered it to be the most important tool of political struggle for our bright future. The bright future will certainly happen. Because I no longer need this as a tool.

"I am ready to return to the state - maybe not for good because I am not sure that the state will manage it well - that is, not return as property, but give in trust. But [I don't want to] have anything to do with this any more, so that no one would be saying: 'What has Dorenko said there? Did Berezovsky prompt him to this?'

"Yes, one can talk to Dorenko, one can convince him or one can fail to convince him [of something] - he will act on his own anyhow. But I don't want to explain anything to anyone anymore. Let [presidential Chief of Staff Alexander] Voloshin explain whether he has convinced Dorenko or not, or let Voloshin fire Dorenko."

ORT, particularly via Dorenko's popular political news show, was instrumental in pumping up Kremlin candidates in the 1999 Duma and 2000 presidential elections, and in destroying the Kremlin's rivals.

During the Duma elections, the station's hostile coverage sank the Fatherland-All Russia party. During the presidential race, the station smeared Grigory Yavlinsky as a candidate backed by gays and Jews.

Dorenko himself complained in Saturday's episode of his program that Putin's office has repeatedly turned down his requests for interviews.

He then reminded his audience that late last year and early this year - when the Kremlin needed to have Putin on air during the State Duma and presidential election campaigns - Putin was featured on Dorenko's program every week.