CNN founder Ted Turner has hit a major obstacle in his attempts to buy into Russian broadcaster NTV, owned by the beleaguered Media Most group, as a Moscow court has blocked the sale of 19% of the company, pending a court hearing in mid-February.
Russia's state-controlled gas giant, Gazprom Media, claims it is entitled to the 19% stake because it is held as collateral against a $261m loan that Media Most has now defaulted on. If the court hands over the shares, Gazprom would own 65% of NTV, essentially halting the sale of Media Most's stake in the channel to Turner.
A consortium led by Turner has offered $300m for unspecified stakes in NTV, Media Most's second-tier television network THT, direct-to-home broadcaster NTV Plus and the Seven Days publishing house which includes daily newspaper Segodnya and Itogi magazine. But Turner has said the deal will only go ahead if the Kremlin promises that the media interests would be free of political influence, which so far it has not.
Media Most owes nearly $300m to Gazprom Media but last year struck a debt relief deal stipulating that 25% of NTV will be sold to an unspecified foreign investor through Deutsche Bank of London for a minimum of $90m. However, observers believe that Gazprom is under government pressure to block the Turner deal.
Media Most's embattled founder Vladimir Gusinsky, who continues to await extradition from Spain to Russia on fraud charges, claims the attacks against his media empire are part of a government orchestrated campaign to stifle freedom of the press. The company's group finance director Anton Titov was also recently arrested.