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June 18, 2000 

  

MOSCOW, (AP) - After four days in prison and an outcry accusing the Kremlin of cracking down on the press, media baron Vladimir Gusinsky was freed, smiling and thanking the press for their intense coverage of the case.

 

Charges of swindling and theft are still pending against the 47-year-old tycoon, one of Russia's most prominent businessmen.

 

A spokesman for the prosecutor-general's office, who declined to give his name, said Gusinsky was released after promising not to leave the country.

Media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, left, thanks his attorney Pavel Astakhov at the entrance of central office of Media-Most holding company after being released from prison in Moscow, Friday, June 16, 2000. Vladimir Gusinsky, whose arrest and imprisonment sparked harsj criticism that the Kremlin was cracking down on the free press, was released from jail Friday evening. (AP Photo)

        

"Thank you to all who supported me," Gusinsky said on his NTV television station an hour after his release. "Foremost of all, to journalists and all my colleagues."

 

The case had dogged President Vladimir Putin during a trip to Spain and Germany, with journalists firing questions about Gusinsky at every opportunity.

 

After days of saying he knew little about the matter, Putin on Thursday said he believed that arresting Gusinsky had been an excessive measure.

 

Putin was in Moldova as Gusinsky was released and made no public comment.

 

Previously, he had insisted that the Tuesday arrest of Gusinsky, the head of the Media-Most holding company that includes some of Russia's most respected broadcast and print media, had nothing to do with press issues and his statement that the arrest went too far raised expectations of the mogul's release.

     

Earlier Friday, Gusinsky seemed likely to remain in Moscow's overcrowded, shabby Butyrskaya prison through the weekend. He met with investigators during the day and his lawyers announced that formal charges had been filed.

 

"The gist of the charges is that Media-Most itself was created exclusively with the goal of inflicting damage on the state," said Gusinsky lawyer Genri Reznik.

 

Prosecutors have said Gusinsky is suspected of taking part in the theft of dlrs 10 million in state funds in a privatization deal. He is one of the powerful Russian businessmen, widely called "oligarchs," whose tough deal making have propelled them to the top and often raised questions about their business practices.

 

Top editors of Gusinsky's media told a news conference that Kremlin officials had made informal threats for months before Gusinsky's arrest.

      

A spokeswoman at the Kremlin's press service said there was no comment on the claim.

 

Media-Most's news organizations have offered critical coverage of the war in Chechnya and alleged Kremlin corruption and intrigue.

 

But the investigator in charge of the case, Valery Nikolayev, told Russian state television that there were no political motives and that it was "a common criminal case."

 

"I don't think that the prosecutors should necessarily have used such a measure as arrest," Putin said Friday at a Berlin news conference. "But I don't have reason to believe that they broke the

law."

 

He also noted the contention of Gusinsky's lawyers' statement that their client was eligible for release under an amnesty for holders of state medals. Gusinsky has an Order of the Friendship of Peoples.

 

The Interfax news agency cited the prosecutor-general's office as saying the decision to release Gusinsky took the medal into account. But the office spokesman declined to comment on that to The Associated Press.

      

A group of prominent American CEOs, led by former Ambassador to Moscow Robert Strauss, announced Thursday that because of Gusinsky's  arrest, it would postpone its trip to Russia, which had been scheduled to begin next Tuesday. The group, representing the U.S.-Russian Business Council, was to have met with Putin.

 

In Moscow, U.S. Ambassador James Collins met with Russian officials and urged that Gusinsky be guaranteed due process and protection of his rights, an embassy official said.

 

The fact that Gusinsky heads a major Russian Jewish organization has added fuel to the fire, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak calling on Russian officials to reconsider the arrest.

 


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