Asbury Park Press
Aug 29, 2003
Russian Media Mogul Out on Bail in Greece
By THEODORA TONGAS
Associated Press Writer
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- A former Russian media tycoon was released on bail from a Greek maximum security facility Friday pending an extradition request from Moscow, where he is accused of fraud and money laundering in connection with a $262 million loan.
Casually dressed in slacks and a T-shirt, Vladimir Gusinsky, who is still barred from leaving Greece, made no comment as he got into a car headed for a luxury hotel.
Gusinsky, one of Russia's so-called oligarchs who once counted the independent NTV television station as part of his media empire, was arrested Aug. 21 at the Athens airport after arriving from Tel Aviv, Israel, reportedly for a family vacation.
Airport officials found Gusinsky's name on an Interpol wanted list for fraud in excess of $250 million. A prosecutor ordered him held pending an extradition request from Russia.
Moscow, however, so far has not filed such a request, according to Greek officials and Gusinsky's lawyers. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office said Tuesday that it was preparing one.
Russia must meet an Oct. 1 deadline or Gusinsky will be allowed to leave Greece and have his bail returned, his lawyers said.
"We are waiting for the official extradition request from Russia which has not come yet. We will see then what we will do," lawyer Alexandros Likourezos said.
Gusinsky claims the charges against him are politically motivated in retaliation for NTV's critical coverage of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Chechnya.
He is one of the few tycoons to face prosecution following Putin's pledges to crack down on the influence of so-called oligarchs who gained power under his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.
Gusinsky was being held in the hospital wing of Korydallos maximum security prison, in Athens' port of Piraeus. He was released after posting $108,000 bail after a decision by a council of three appellate judges, which also barred the 50-year-old businessman from leaving the country.
The council accepted an argument from Gusinsky's lawyers that he did not represent a flight risk and could not look after his business interests from jail.
The government refused to comment. "We do not judge the decisions made by the appellate council," government spokesman Christos Protopapas said.
Russia initially sought Gusinsky on charges of misrepresenting the assets of his company Media-Most to obtain a $262 million loan from the government-controlled gas giant Gazprom. It later added allegations of money laundering.
In 2001, Gazprom took over Gusinsky's media holdings led by NTV - formerly Russia's main nationwide, independent network. The move was widely criticized as a blow to media freedom in Russia and considered possible retaliation for NTV's coverage.
Gusinsky, who holds both Russian and Israeli passports, was arrested in December 2000 at his home in Spain, but in 2001 a Spanish court refused to extradite him, saying the grounds for the case wouldn't amount to a crime in Spain.