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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Overturns Freezing of NTV Shares

A Moscow court Sunday overturned a bailiff's order freezing the voting rights of a key chunk of shares in beleaguered NTV, the country's largest private television station.

But the decision by the Arbitration Court did not resolve the dispute between NTV and Gazprom, the state-connected natural gas monopoly, over ultimate control of the shares.

Gazprom now holds 46 percent of the shares in NTV. The television station and its parent company Media-Most have been fighting a complicated and emotional battle over control of the broadcaster.

Another 19 percent of NTV's shares were turned over to Gazprom last year as collateral for NTV's debts, although NTV retained the voting rights.

In January, a court ordered that the shares could not be sold or transferred but said the voting rights remained. However, a court bailiff later ordered that the voting rights be frozen.

The Arbitration Court's ruling overturned the bailiff's order. But NTV reported later Sunday that the same judge who issued the order in January had later ruled the voting rights must also be frozen and that the Sunday ruling affected only the bailiff's order and not the judge's.

"Today's court decision ... in effect changes nothing," said a spokesman for the natural gas company's subsidiary Gazprom-Media, according to Interfax.

Nonetheless, NTV commentator Yevgeny Kiselyov hailed the decision as an important development during his weekly news magazine show "Itogi."

NTV, along with other Media-Most properties including the daily newspaper Segodnya and the radio station Ekho Moskvy, are noted for critical coverage of the Russian government. Some observers contend that the battle for control is driven by a Kremlin desire to stifle critical reporting.

Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinsky was arrested last June and held in jail for four days on charges that he had defrauded the government in a privatization deal. He was released and the charges were later dropped.

But controversy arose again when Gusinsky said he was pressured to sign an agreement turning his holdings over to Gazprom in exchange for the charges being dropped. Since then, the case has been mired in complex court maneuverings.

NTV is appealing the court's decision freezing the voting rights, Kiselyov said.