. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Stage Fresh Raid on Media-MOST

Around 20 police and prosecutors swooped on the headquarters of Russia's embattled Media-Most group Wednesday, and its lawyers promptly blasted what they called an ongoing campaign to intimidate and silence its media outlets.

Leading television commentator Yevgeny Kiselyov, general director of Media-Most's NTV channel, said Wednesday's raid was the 27th since prosecutors began investigating Media-Most boss Vladimir Gusinsky.

"This is yet another instance of psychological pressure on our staff and an attempt to bring down morale," Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky told Reuters.

The probe into Media-Most and a battle for control of NTV, Russia's only national independent television channel, has sparked allegations the Kremlin is seeking to stifle press freedom. President Vladimir Putin has dismissed such charges.

One of Media-Most's lawyers, Pavel Burmistrov, told reporters that five officials from the office of the Prosecutor-General and 15 officers of the FSB domestic security police, a successor to the KGB, had conducted the search.

He said they were looking for documents related to their probe into Gusinsky, currently fighting extradition from Spain on fraud charges, and into Media-Most's financial affairs. Gusinsky denies the fraud charges and is fighting extradition.

Media-Most's finance director, Anton Titov, is being held by Russian police on charges of embezzlement, which he denies.

"Such searches are totally pointless," Burmistrov said, referring to Wednesday's raid.

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov denied on Tuesday that his probe of Gusinsky had a political motive. He said embezzlement charges had been levelled against Gusinsky because Media-Most had taken loans, knowing they could not be paid back.

Media-Most has handed 46 percent of NTV to state-controlled gas giant Gazprom to settle some $260 million in debt. Gazprom's media arm has launched a suit to secure a further 19 percent in NTV, pledged to secure another loan.

Media-Most has been talking with CNN founder Ted Turner to sell him up to 25 percent in NTV to get funds to pay the debts to Gazprom and help secure the station's independence.

Kiselyov told reporters the talks were continuing and that Turner was waiting for a reply from the Kremlin as to whether Putin backed his bid for a part of NTV.