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Russia Tycoon Ordered Free on Bail

December 22, 2000

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ A Spanish judge on Friday ordered Russian media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky freed on $5.5 million bail, but put him under house arrest pending a decision on whether Spain will extradite him to face fraud charges in Russia.

Lawyers for Gusinsky posted the bail late Friday but it was not immediately known when he would be allowed to leave Soto del Real prison on Madrid’s outskirts.

Judge Baltasar Garzon made the decision to allow Gusinsky’s release on bail after a 15-minute hearing at which Gusinsky appeared with his lawyers.

Gusinsky, 48, was arrested last week at a villa he owns in southern Spain on a warrant issued by Moscow. Gusinsky maintains he is a victim of political persecution because of the criticism his Media-Most media empire has made of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia denies it is out to crush Gusinsky and Media-Most, saying it supports media freedom and that it is merely trying to enforce financial laws and end the immunity enjoyed by business barons when Boris Yeltsin was president.

Garzon set strict conditions for Gusinsky’s house arrest, saying police must be posted both outside and inside his villa in the southern town of San Roque in Cadiz province.

Gusinsky must also ask the judge and police for permission if he wants to leave the house to run an errand, and be accompanied by police if he is allowed out. Also, any vehicle entering or leaving the premises must be searched by police.

Garzon said he himself will arrange the surveillance with police.

In requesting bail, Gusinsky’s lawyers said the mogul did not present a risk of fleeing the country because his wife and children live in the villa.

Gusinsky made a quick fortune through privatization deals under Yeltsin. He owns Russia’s only major independent television network.

Russian prosecutors allege that Gusinsky overstated his company’s assets to win $300 million in loan guarantees in 1996 from the state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom. Prosecutors say the company, Media-Most, was bankrupt at the time.

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