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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kokh Met By Official Scrutiny on U.S. Visit

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Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh apparently has not had an easy time of it in the United States, where he has been meeting with various high-ranking officials.

Kokh went to Washington last week to try to convince the Americans that he is not acting on behalf of the Kremlin to suppress media freedom in Russia but is motivated purely by business interests in his dispute with Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-MOST holding, which owes the state-controlled gas giant millions of dollars.

Instead, he has been forced to fight off tough questions from U.S. congressmen and security officials and to justify his actions against Media-MOST, according to a source in Gazprom-Media and a report in Kommersant on Tuesday.

Among those who met with Kokh are Acting Assistant Secretary of State John Beyrle and Daniel Fried, National Security Council director for European and Eurasian affairs.

Kommersant reported that the meeting with Fried and other NSC officials late last week turned out to be the toughest for Kokh. They asked Kokh to explain why Gazprom started collecting debts from Media-MOST and not from Itera, a U.S.-registered gas producer and trader, which owes Gazprom half a billion dollars. Kokh responded that Itera was outside his area of responsibility.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.Kokh played down the difficulties he was encountering in an interview with Izvestia reported by Interfax.

"Possibly we have some insignificant differences with the Americans about the political component to this conflict," Kokh said. "I would express it like this: In the State Department and NSC they don’t see a political underpinning between Media-MOST and Gazprom but between Media-MOST and the Russian prosecutor."

Fried’s staff said they were too busy Tuesday to comment on the meeting with Kokh.

Back in Moscow, the Audit Chamber, the State Duma’s budgetary watchdog, which has been auditing Gazprom for the past year, also addressed Gazprom’s relationship with Media-MOST and Itera.

Auditor Mikhail Beskhmelnitsin said at a news conference Monday that the Audit Chamber was recommending to Gazprom that it get out of the media business. He said Gazprom should recover the funds invested in Media-MOST and re-invest them in its natural gas business, Interfax reported.

Beskhmelnitsin also said the Audit Chamber will sort out the relationship between Gazprom and Itera and determine whether or not Itera has been used to channel Gazprom assets out of the country, the report said. The Audit Chamber’s decisions usually have little weight even if wrongdoing is uncovered.

Kommersant also wrote that Kokh was questioned in Washington about Press Minister Mikhail Lesin’s role in the conflict between Gazprom and Media-MOST.

Last July, Lesin signed an appendix to an agreement between Gazprom and Gusinsky that promised the media mogul he would be free to leave Russia in exchange for signing away his companies. The move was widely seen as dubious both legally and morally. Lesin, who received a public slap from Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, later admitted it was a mistake.

Extradition hearings are to start Thursday for Gusinsky, who is being held in Spain on a Russian warrant.