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The Moscow arbitration court on Wednesday ruled that Kommersant publishers must pay Alfa-Bank $11 million
This is the biggest claim made in Russian history against a media body. The core of the matter is an article, "Banking Crisis Takes to the Streets", which appeared in the paper on July 7 and alleged a run on Alfa-Bank branches by scared clients. Alfa and then the court found the information did not correspond to reality and compromised the bank's business reputation. The conflict is described in today's Gazeta. Kommersant's director-general, Andrei Vasilyev, does not rule out that the Alfa-Group consortium's head, Mikhail Fridman, explicitly told his men to ruin or buy Kommersant. Mr. Vasilyev thinks that Alfa Bank "wants to exploit this claim to score points with the Kremlin." Experts are not ruling out a political version of the claim either. In the view of Alexei Makarkin, the deputy director-general of the Center of Political Technologies, this fits into the context of relations between Kommersant owner Boris Berezovsky and the Kremlin, and may be a matter of changing the publication's owner. Meanwhile, Alexander Gafin, a member of the Alfa-Bank board of directors, categorically denies that the claim was filed to enable the subsequent purchase of Kommersant. "Five years ago we had a stake in the newspaper as collateral," he said. "We are not interested in buying it, simply you must answer for every word you say." In the opinion of Kommersant's core shareholder Boris Berezovsky, the claim was motivated, on the one hand, by Fridman taking offence at Kommersant publishing a photograph that did him little credit eighteen months ago, and, on the other, by his desire to do a favor for the Kremlin, which is not interested in the publication's independence.
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