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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

Putin tightens curbs on press with bank raid By Ben Aris in Moscow THE Kremlin tightened the noose around Russias free press yesterday by raiding the bank in which many of Russias leading independent media have accounts. The raid crippled some of Russias leading independent media. It came on the same day as the business tycoon Boris Berezovsky promised to rescue the Media-MOST holding company, Russias leading commercial media organisation, which is fighting for survival against the Kremlin. The general prosecutor, Russias senior police officer, shut down Image Bank, which holds the accounts of NTV, the flagship television station of Media-MOST, among others. More than 20 prosecutors arrived yesterday morning and froze all Image banks accounts, switching off computers and not allowing anyone to leave or enter the bank. The Kremlin has been seeking control of NTV since last summer. The arrest of Media-MOSTs owner, Vladimir Gusinsky, last June sparked an international furore against what was seen as President Putins attempt to stifle Russias press freedoms. Mr Gusinsky was released after three days in jail and fled the country. He is under house arrest in Spain fighting an extradition order to Russia, where he could face fraud charges. The bank raid is another blow for Media-MOST, which has been under pressure for eight months. Prosecutors raided it for the 28th time two weeks ago, and staff have been harassed. Dmitri Ostalsky, the Media-MOST spokesman, said: "Our company keeps most of our money in Image Bank. Without the bank our company is paralysed." Several of Russias leading independent broadcasters have been paralysed by the closure of Image Bank. Ekho Moskva, one of Russias most popular radio stations, also holds its accounts there. Alexei Venediktov, the stations chief editor, said: "This is clearly a political decision as all our accounts are in the bank. If they are not released we could be forced to close down." Ekho Moskva is due to pay its federal transmission fees in a few days. Mr Venediktov is afraid that if these payments are missed it will be used as a pretext to close the station, which has criticised the Putin administration. The heads of NTV, Ekho Moskva and TNT, another independent broadcaster that has its accounts in Image Bank, have written to Mr Putin condemning the action of the general prosecutor and calling for their accounts to be unfrozen. Earlier, Mr Berezovsky offered to lend Media-MOST $50 million (£34 million) and to help to raise more to pay off the debts that the Kremlin are exploiting to wrest control from Mr Gusinsky.

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