Bailiffs moved on Friday to freeze the shares of Media Most Group, Russia's sole independent media empire, after talks between the troubled group and its major creditor, the state-controlled gas concern Gazprom, broke down.

The move came after a court order was granted to Gazprom's media arm, Gazprom-Media, which is trying to recoup debts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Media Most head Vladimir Guzinsky refused to honour a deal struck in July whereby he was to hand over the company's assets to state controlled Gazprom-Media, part of the Gazprom group.

Guzinsky said that he signed the agreement under pressure and that it is invalid, although Gazprom insists that Gusinsky signed the deal of his own free will. Media-Most's lawyer Pavel Astakhov reportedly challenged the legality of the bailiffs' move, which prevents shares from being traded or transferred until the dispute is resolved.

"This is a suspect delegation [of bailiffs] with suspect documents. Neither the judge nor the debtor is named in these documents," Astakhov reportedly told RTR state TV.

In return for handing over the assets, Media Most's debts of $473m were to have been paid off. The group was also to obtain $300m, while Guzinsky would be protected from prosecution. Guzinsky was jailed for three days in June on criminal fraud charges but the charges were dropped without explanation.