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Battle for Berezovsky moves to newspapers

: Natalia Rostova  

The Prosecutor Generals Office has launched criminal proceedings against the former director general and the former chief editor of the Novyye Izvestia daily, Igor Golembiovsky and Sergei Agafonov. Both are charged with attempting to deliberately bankrupt the paper.

However, Novyye Izvestias owner Oleg Mitvol, who fired Golembiovsky and Agafonov in February this year accusing them of theft, in an interview for Gazeta.Ru, has said he believes Golembiovsky was not guilty of the charges brought against him, and put the entire blame on Boris Berezovsky, who financed the paper for several years.

On Monday Russian news agencies reported that the Prosecutor General's Office has started criminal proceedings against the former general director of the Novyye Izvestiya publishing group Igor Golembiovsky and against his deputy, the former chief editor of the Novyye Izvestia newspaper Sergey Agafonov.

Sources close to the investigation told Interfax news agency that criminal proceedings have been instigated under Article 196 of the Russian Criminal Code: that is, deliberate bankruptcy. Investigation of the case has been transferred to the Russian Interior Ministry's investigation bodies.

According to the investigation, ''by their actions, aimed at premeditated bankruptcy, the managers of the Novyye Izvestiya publishing company artificially created credit indebtedness to firms that bought the publishing company's promissory notes to the total value of R187,059,037 and 50 kopecks, to the Tekhnolizing closed joint-stock company totaling 7,597,212 dollars, and via other deals totaling R7,487,128, thus causing much damage to Novyye Izvestiya's finances''.

The case was opened on the basis of the results of the inquiry conducted at the request of the new director general of Novyye Izvestia Vladimir Sergeyev.

To recap, in February the board chairman of the Noviye Izvestia newspaper Oleg Mitvol, who holds the majority (76 per cent) stake in the daily, suspended the director general Igor Golembiovsky. In response, Golembiovsky at his own initiative stepped down as the director general and suspended publication. The self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky who had helped establish the daily and financed it for the past five years had nothing to do but recognize Mitvols legal right to the paper in an interview with Gazeta.Ru.

When commenting on the reasons for the new dispute between the papers shareholders for Gazerta.Ru, Noviye Izvestias director and the prominent journalist Igor Golembiovsky noted: ''In our new language it is called a dispute between economic entities, yet in truth this is a dispute between Berezovsky who has been de facto financing the paper and Mitvol, who, apparently, has moved to safeguard himself.''

When asked, whether that meant that Mitvol decided to distance himself from Berezovsky, Golembiovsky answered: ''Maybe, but then maybe it is connected with the fact that lately we have published several articles critical of the Kremlin.'' He also confirmed, that Mitvol, who is in the canned food business, ''is the formal owner of the paper''.

The board chairman of Noviye Izvestia, Mitvol, told Interfax that, despite allegations that Boris Bererzovsky committed the stake that he holds to his trust, he actually owns 76 per cent in the daily. He confirmed that Golembiovsky had been sacked from the director generals post, but said he could keep the editors job. ''I have no complaints about Golembiovskys professional conduct,'' Mitvol said.

Explaining his move to sack the director general, Mitvol noted that when at the end of the last year he looked into the financial activity of the company, he discovered that some of the managements actions were downright criminal. In particular, certain equipment that the newspaper bought for $1 million was later sold to an unknown company for $33,000 and then leased back for $36,000 per month, he said.

In an interview for Gazeta.Ru Boris Berezovsky, who controlled Noviye Izvestia, recognized Mitvols legal rights to the ownership. ''When the old Izvestia got in a fix [Berezovsk is referring to the 1997 conflict between shareholders of the Izvestia daily, which led to a split in the editorial staff. The dispute over control of the paper forced a group of journalists together with Igor Golembiovsky to quit the Izvestia daily, and with the help of Boris Berezovsky the defectors started Noviye Izvetia (New Izvestia)] I helped a part of the journalist team to set up Noviye Izvestia,'' the magnate explained.

''Our group fully financed the project the premises, the purchase of equipment, and salaries during that time. Mitvol appeared as if from nowhere. To be honest, I cannot really remember, how he showed up, and offered his services to me: Boris Abramovich, he said, let me help you to fix everything. I had known him for several months and, indeed, he began to help actively, to register the new company. Then he said: Time is pressing, let me register the company in my name temporarily. I said I did not mind, so as to avoid writing letters of attorney and all that. So it went, until I left the country. In the meantime, Mr Mitvol, who forgot to re-register the company in my name, claimed the ownership.''

In the meantime, the staff of the paper split up: following the scandalous charges brought against investors and shareholders against the dailys management, the deputy chief editor Valery Yakov fell out with Golembiovsky. Yakov is now set to resume the publication of Novyye Izvestia under the same name: Oleg Mitvol has transferred the right to the trademark to him free of charge. Currently, Yakov is examining the legal side of the matter and the opportunities for re-registering the paper in his name.

For his part, Igor Golembiovsky and his other deputies have recently voiced their intention to launch a new paper under the working title Resonance. On Monday it transpired that those plans may face disruption.

Asked by Interfax to comment on the charges brought against him, Golembiovsky said: ''I don't know anything about this, and nobody has told me anything yet.''

Gazeta.Ru has not been able to get in touch with Golembiovsky and Agafonov. However, the owner of the paper, Oleg Mitvol, in comments for Gazeta.Ru said he believes Golembiovsky is not guilty of the crimes ascribed to him, because he signed all the documents now being used as evidence against him whilst in hospital recovering from major surgery. Furthermore, Mitvol inadvertently suggested that it was not Golembiovsky, but Boris Berezovsky who was behind the attempt to make his publishing group bankrupt.

In this connection, it cannot be ruled out that Mitvol, and Golembiovsky are being used as instruments to exert additional pressure on Boris Berezovsky, currently awaiting a decision on his extradition case in London. Perhaps, the Russian authorities hope that additional charges against the tycoon will help persuade the British court of Berezovskys implication in criminal activities in Russia. However, as Mitvol pointed out in his interview for Gazeta.Ru, ''let us wait until the investigation is completed''.

08 18:07


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