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Gusinsky wins extradition battle

Gusinsky has been held in Spain since December  

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky has won his battle against the threat of extradition from Spain.

As his media empire crumbles at home, Spain's National Court on Wednesday rejected Moscow's demand that Gusinsky's be returned to Russia to face fraud charges.

Gusinsky, 48, who was arrested in Spain last December on an international warrant, has maintained that the charges are politically motivated.

The Russian authorities claim he overstated the assets of his Media-Most empire to win $300 million in loan guarantees from state-owned gas company Gazprom.

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Gusinsky, who insists that the loan has been fully repaid, has branded the claims "false and absurd" and said they were a result of his companies' criticisms of the Russian Government.

Prosecutors have three days in which to lodge an appeal against the Spanish courts' 2-1 decision.

  AUDIO

Plazas Domingo Plazas, Gusinsky's attorney: Russia's media interference proves the prosecution is politically motivated

583K/54 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

gusinsky Gusinsky: Unfortunately this is not only my legal problem

239K/27 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

goodman CNN's Al Goodman: Good news for Gusinsky after setbacks

818K/76 sec.
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goodman CNN's Matthew Chance: Russia may appeal

690K/74 sec.
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 REFERENCE
NTV logo NTV: Russian media battle
  •  Putin accused of NTV plot
  •  Who owns what in Russia's media
  •  Shrinking free media
  •  Timeline of events
  •  NTV fact file
  •  Gazprom fact file
  •  VIDEO: Vladimir Guskinsky interview
  •  Profile: Boris Jordan
  •  Profile: Yevgeny Kiselyov
  •  Profile: Ted Turner
  •  Profile: Vladimir Gusinsky
 

The judges ruled that the extradition request had "certain noticeable and unusual circumstances that were not normally included in an extradition request for fraud."

The court went on to say that these circumstances put the court on alert for a possible political motivation for the request.

In the end, the court said the alleged fraud for which Gusinsky was accused under Russian law would not be considered fraud under Spain's penal code, a key requirement before extradition can occur.

Meanwhile, Gusinsky's media empire is in chaos with Gazprom having claimed ownership of the NTV television network.

Staff at NTV, which has been critical of Vladimir Putin and the war in Chechnya, were involved in a tense standoff with a newly appointed management led by American financier Boris Jordan but in the weekend staff were forced to pledge their loyalty or leave.

Although the new management has said it is purely a financial move and it will not stifle freedom of speech, it means that in one way or another the Russian government now controls all three television networks in the country.

Other parts of Gusinsky's empire, including newspapers Itogi and Sevodnya, have been hit by closures and takeovers and the editor-in-chief of Moscow's respected independent radio station Ekho Moskvy has said he fears for its survival.

Earlier this month, CNN founder Ted Turner announced that he had struck a deal to buy his interest the network and would look for a deal with Gazprom.

Gusinsky has spent most of the time since his arrest on $5.5 million bail under house arrest in luxury villa in Sotogrande, although he was briefly jailed again in March.

The Russian prosecutor general's office did not seem ready to back down, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

"We don't see anything terrible in this decision. There are still ways to fight for Gusinsky's extradition," it quoted spokeswoman Natalia Vishnyakova as saying.



RELATED STORIES:
Profile: Vladimir Gusinsky
April 10, 2001
Fear amid Gusinsky's media empire
April 17, 2001
Ex-NTV staff vow to set up rival
April 14, 2001
Battle for NTV reaches climax
April 14, 2001

RELATED SITES:
NTV
Russian Government

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