Russia's embattled Media Most group has finally signed a debt relief settlement with its major creditor, the state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.

The agreement is essentially the same as the one reached a week earlier, which was scotched at the eleventh hour when Gazprom Media chief Alfred Kokh withdrew his offer (ScreenDaily, November 14).

Under the terms of the agreement, Gazprom Media receives 25% plus one share of the Media Most group, which is a blocking stake under Russian law and allows a veto at board meetings. In return, Gazprom has agreed to write off Media Most's $211m debt.

A further 25% of Media Most will be used as collateral against the $262m loan that falls due in March, 2001. Gazprom Media, which already owns 30% of Media Most's flagship broadcaster NTV, will receive an additional 16%, and a further 19% will be held as collateral.

The agreement also stipulates that 25% of NTV will be sold to an as-yet-unspecified foreign investor through Deutsche Bank of London for a minimum of $90m.

Kokh said he pulled out of the previous agreement after a warrant was issued for the arrest of Media Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky at the beginning of last week. He claims that in the new deal, the two companies, rather than Gusinsky, are parties to the contract.

Kokh also said the two civil cases against Media Most, which are still open, would be dropped if the deal is carried out according to plan. Both sides agreed that the deal would ensure freedom of speech for journalists working for the group. The criminal charges against Gusinsky have not been settled.