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The BBC's Rosie Hayes
"Vladamir Gusinsky is accused of embezzlement"
 real 28k

The BBC's Robert Parsons
"A thorn in the side of the Kremlin for a long time"
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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Support for arrested media tycoon
Vladimir Gusinsky
Mr Gusinsky will be charged within 10 days, say officials
Senior members of the Russian business and political elites have joined a growing wave of criticism over the arrest of the media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared himself "sincerely concerned" as a group of Russian business executives wrote an open letter demanding Mr Gusinsky's release.

The 17 business leaders said democracy in Russia appeared to be in doubt - and the arrest appeared to be a form of summary justice against the opposition.

Until yesterday we believed that we lived in a democratic country and today we have serious doubts

Open letter from businessmen
Mr Gusinsky, whose Media-Most empire includes NTV television, the newspaper Sevodnya and the radio station Ekho Moskvy, is accused of stealing state property valued at $10 million.

His media outlets have frequently criticised the policies of the Kremlin and President Putin.

The prosecutor-general's office said on Wednesday that charges against Mr Gusinsky would be brought within 10 days, as required by law.

Presidential concern

President Putin, speaking during a visit to Spain, said he had been unable to contact Prosecutor-General, Vladimir Ustinov.

"Last night I tried to find the prosecutor- general," President Putin told journalists.

Genry Reznik
Mr Gusinsky's lawyer, Genry Reznik, leaves Butyrsky prison
"Where is he? I don't know."

But President Putin added: "This won't be passed aside. In Moscow I will have all the information."

The 17 business leaders who have rallied to Mr Gusinsky's defence say they will guarantee that he appears in to face any future charges if he is freed from prison.

"This is a precedent that appears like summary justice of the authorities against the opposition.

"Last night I tried to find the prosecutor general. Where is he? I don't know

President Putin

"Until yesterday we believed that we lived in a democratic country and today we have serious doubts."

The letter adds: "We hope that the authorities will have enough courage to recognise that Mr Gusinsky does not represent a threat to society and is ready to co-operate."

The letter is signed by bosses including Rem Vyakhirev of gas giant Gasprom, and Anatoly Chubais who runs the electricity monopoly UES.

Former president Mikhail Gorbachev has joined the criticism.

Boris Berezovsky
Rival Boris Berezovsky has criticised Gusinsky's arrest

He said the arrest was not necessary, as prosecuting authorities could have made Mr Gusinsky pledge in writing not to leave Moscow.

Boris Berezovsky, another powerful Russian media figure, said his "personal attitude to what has happened to Gusinsky is very negative, whether he's guilty or not".

Vladimir Gusinsky
1989: Entered the business world and founds the Most-Bank

1992: Began developing media empire, launching Russia's first independent TV station NTV

1994: Police raid the Most-Bank

1996: Backs Boris Yeltsin in Presidential elections

1999: Defects to the opposition with strong anti-Yeltsin campaign

Last month investigators backed by armed policemen raided Media-Most's offices, reinforcing criticism that President Putin intended to crack down on news outlets critical of his administration.

In the US, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said: " We are quite concerned about some of the steps taken against the free media."

Sergei Parkhomenko, editor of the Gusinsky-owned "Itogi" weekly magazine, said that Mr Gusinsky was being held in Moscow's 18th century Butyrsky jail, not the more modern Lefortovo prison where high-ranking detainees are usually held.

"It is the ugliest jail in Moscow, where only criminals are held," he said.

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | Europe
Russian media mogul arrested
05 Jun 00 | Media reports
Kremlin pulls strings on TV puppets
28 Mar 00 | Business
Russia's new oligarchs
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