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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Snap Up Gusinsky Office, Car

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Prosecutors have frozen the ownership of Media-MOST's headquarters and seized Vladimir Gusinky's Mercedes, part of a continuing drive by Gazprom to take over Gusinsky's media empire.

The moves Friday came a day after five deputy editors at Ekho Moskvy radio — the last remaining independent news outlet from Media-MOST — announced that they were resigning in protest of the "renationalization" of the station by Gazprom.

Media-MOST spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky said Friday that prosecutors had frozen Media-MOST's rights to its headquarters and "driven off somewhere" with Gusinky's armored Mercedes 600, which had stood unused in a garage for a year.

A Prosecutor General's Office spokesman said the actions were part of a case filed at Gazprom's request.

Gazprom says it is taking over Media-MOST assets to recoup millions of dollars in unpaid loans. Media-MOST says the takeover is politically motivated.

Gazprom this year has seized NTV television, shut down Sevodnya newspaper and sacked the staff of the Itogi weekly magazine — all news outlets formerly controlled by Media-MOST.

Last week, a court awarded Gazprom a controlling 52 percent stake in Ekho Moskvy. But Gazprom on Wednesday promised to relinquish its majority in the station and sell 9.5 percent to the station's staff.

The staff could then gain a controlling stake in the station.

However, Ekho Moskvy's five deputy directors said at a news conference Friday that they were unconvinced Gazprom would give up control.

"Ekho Moskvy has become a nationalized state radio station," said first deputy editor Sergei Buntman. "We do not want to work for a state radio."

He and the four other deputy directors — Marina Korolyova, Irina Tsvei, Tatyana Shcheglova and Vladimir Varfolomeyev — said they had handed in resignations Thursday but would stay on in an acting capacity for two more weeks at the request of station founder and head Alexei Venediktov, who pleaded for more time to negotiate.

Buntman said 12 journalists at the station had also resigned but Venediktov declined to accept their resignations.

Buntman compared Gazprom's pledge to relinquish shares to "an agreement written on a napkin."

Venediktov told the Kommersant newspaper the resignations were "premature," but said he also doubted Gazprom's word.

"After all my experience negotiating with [Gazprom media arm chief Alfred] Kokh, I am 90 percent certain there will be no solution," he said. "If changes to the share register are made within the next two weeks and Gazprom becomes the main shareholder, I'll quit with the rest."

Gazprom-Media spokeswoman Aelita Yefimova said lawyers were already working on the deal to relinquish control.

"We can't understand why they are succumbing to hysterics. We are ready to finish this process and conclude it with a real sale [of the shares]," she said.