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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taxman Goes After NTV Ally THT

Top managers of THT television found themselves facing charges of tax evasion Monday, two days after taking in defiant journalists from NTV television.

The charges were reported by Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST holding company, which lost control of NTV over the weekend to Gazprom and is struggling to hold onto the second-tier channel THT.

"By putting pressure on the leadership of THT, the authorities are trying to keep the former NTV team off the air for good," Media-MOST said.

In another blow to Gusinsky's media empire, Tuesday's edition of the Segodnya newspaper was unexpectedly kept from going to press Monday evening, editor Mikhail Berger told Ekho Moskvy radio. Berger and the rest of his staff were sent on a two-month paid vacation in light of upcoming mass layoffs, Interfax reported. (See story.)

Gazprom, which guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Media-MOST, acquired enough shares in NTV and the publishing house that puts out Segodnya to exert its control. If Media-MOST fails to pay up on a $262 million loan due in July, Gazprom will gain a controlling stake in THT.

NTV general director Yevgeny Kiselyov and many other high-profile journalists left NTV on Saturday after new general director Boris Jordan and new board chairman Alfred Kokh — also general director of Gazprom-Media — took over operations that morning. Their appointment at a shareholders meeting on April 3 led to a two-week standoff that ended when Gazprom-Media's guards took control during the early hours of Saturday.

Kiselyov's team moved over to THT and began broadcasting news programs from there. At the same time, Kiselyov accepted an offer to head another channel, TV6, and said he will try to work out a deal to bring the ousted NTV team with him.

The two channels have been considering a merger, but the invasion by NTV journalists has caused a strain at both. TV6 news chief Mikhail Ponomaryov said he would leave the channel if Kiselyov was brought in.

Late Monday, TV6 announced that Kiselyov was appointed deputy general director at a meeting with station employees. Originally he had been offered the post of general director at the Boris Berezovsky-controlled station. Interfax said an extraordinary TV6 board meeting has been scheduled for May 4.

As NTV journalists look for a new home, Media-MOST announced that Moscow Tax Police had charged THT chief accountant Yelena Metlikina with tax evasion and intended to charge general director Pavel Korchagin with the same crime later this week.

Pavel Astakhov, a Media-MOST lawyer, said the charges were old and THT had already taken care of the case. Back in September, Tax Police accused THT of evading 191,211 rubles ($6,800) in taxes. Astakhov said THT did not owe the money but paid it anyway to avoid trouble.

Tax Police spokeswoman Yelena Pavlova said she could not confirm that charges were brought against THT managers. "Our leadership is in a meeting right now discussing the issue," Pavlova said Monday evening.

Media-MOST called the charges far-fetched. "The authorities are continuing their unprecedented efforts to destroy the former NTV team and other Media-MOST companies," its statement said. "It's completely obvious that the Tax Police's activities are related to the events surrounding NTV and the switch by some employees to THT."

THT spokeswoman Natalya Zavyalova said the company has already amended its program schedule to include the news programs prepared by Kiselyov's team. On Saturday and Sunday, the rebel journalists had only two programs made in makeshift THT studios. Beginning Monday, "Segodnya on THT" is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., 10 p.m. and shortly after 1 a.m.

Kiselyov's "Itogi" and Viktor Shenderovich's "Itogo" programs are also in the emergency lineup, which was released on THT's web site (www.tht.ru).

The station's ratings have already benefited somewhat from the arrival of the NTV team. On Sunday, 3.72 percent of adult Muscovites watched "Itogi" — about the same number that watched a French comedy in the same time slot on Gazprom-controlled NTV. That is more than the average 2 percent to 3 percent of Muscovites who normally watch THT.

Back at NTV, evening news anchor Tatyana Mitkova was elected chief editor by the journalists who decided to stay, and Leonid Parfyonov now is host of the show "Hero of the Day."

Unlike NTV — which reaches about all Moscow homes — THT can be seen in about 60 percent of Moscow, Zavyalova said. Throughout Russia, the company claims a potential audience of 78 million people, compared with NTV's 112 million.

Unlike NTV, THT relies on local affiliates and may have difficulty enforcing the new schedule. For example, Pioner station in Krasnodar refused to broadcast Kiselyov's "Itogi."

But the current situation — in which former NTV journalists cannot fit in the few rooms or work on the computers THT has to offer — can last no longer than a week, Zavyalova said. "Kiselyov and THT leadership are in constant talks trying to resolve the problem," she said.

Former NTV executive director Sergei Skvortsov, however, said that NTV could stay on at THT indefinitely.

"We can stay as long as THT will want to have the wonderful programs prepared by the wonderful NTV journalists," Skvortsov said.

The events of the past couple of days have changed the playing field for CNN founder Ted Turner. He has been negotiating a deal to buy a stake in NTV since last year, but the channel's value changed after the exodus of journalists.

Turner and his team are still reevaluating their positions, said Turner spokesman Brian Faw. "We need a couple of days to digest everything and analyze the situation," Faw said.

It was still unclear how many people have left NTV. Oleg Sapozhnikov, Jordan's spokesman, said 46 had quit by noon Monday. However, according to NTV's web site, 200 to 250 employees had officially submitted their letters of resignation, and Interfax reported that Jordan wasn't letting anyone else go until he was able to speak with them personally. Former NTV reporter Ashot Nasibov said he saw a pile, several centimeters thick, of letters upon letters, the web site reported.

One prominent resignation did not go through. Oleg Dobrodeyev, head of state-run RTR television who earlier announced his resignation in light of the NTV scandal, met with President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Putin refused to accept his resignation.