Charges Dropped Against Russian Media Mogul

The criminal case against a Russian media mogul

critical of Kremlin policies has been closed for lack of evidence,

Russian media reported today.

Vladimir Gusinsky was jailed for four days in June on charges of cheating the government of $10 million in a privatization deal. Authorities had seized documents from his company’s offices several times, and repeatedly called him in for questioning after his release.

Rage Over Case

The case provoked international outrage and stoked fears that the government of President Vladimir Putin was intent on muzzling the media. Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding company includes the NTV television station, Echo of Moscow radio, and several critical newspapers.

Others saw the case as a sign of a Kremlin offensive against Russia’s top businessmen, who came to be known as “oligarchs” under Boris Yeltsin for their close ties to the government. Putin has said he would even the playing field for businessmen, giving none the favors they previously enjoyed.

Russian prosecutors have sought to reverse the 1997 privatization of giant metals concern Norilsk Nickel, saying it was sold at an unfairly low price to a well-connected businessman. Prosecutors have also launched criminal proceedings against Russia’s largest car maker, Avtovaz, and oil giant Lukoil, which are accused of tax evasion.

The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Gusinsky’s lawyer Pavel Astakhov as saying that Gusinsky found out that the case had been closed on Wednesday night. He immediately flew to Spain, where his family is staying.

‘Lack of Evidence’

The prosecutor’s office concluded that there was a “lack of evidence that a crime had been committed,” ITAR-Tass said. NTV reported that the prosecutor had reversed the order to put a freeze on Gusinsky’s personal belongings.

The case against Gusinsky was closed just ahead of a meeting planned Friday between Putin and many of Russia’s biggest businessmen to discuss the rising tensions.