Madrid, 31 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, the head of Media-MOST which controls NTV, Russia's only major independent television station, appeared before a Spanish magistrate today as the first stage of his extradition hearings began in Madrid. Russia is seeking the extradition of Gusinsky from Spain to face fraud charges. He and his staffers say the charges are politically motivated.
Gusinsky told Judge Baltasar Garzon he does not want to return to Russia to face embezzling charges because he does not trust the independence of the Russian judicial system.
Gusinsky spoke to journalists after the hearing: "It is obvious to everyone in Spain and elsewhere, not only that this proceeding is political, but that it is baseless. It is simply a falsification because they are trying to present economic dealings, even if they are complex, as a criminal case."
Garzon forwarded the case to the National Court, which is under no deadline to make a decision on whether Gusinsky must return to Russia.
Gusinsky has been under house arrest in Spain since police detained him in December. He is accused of embezzling more than $300 million from state-controlled Gazprom, Media-MOST's largest creditor and major shareholder.
Separately, EU ambassadors met journalists from Russia's private NTV television station today in Moscow. Swedish ambassador Sven Hirdman, who invited the NTV staffers to his country's embassy for lunch, said EU-member states pay "considerable attention" to the media and strongly support press freedom. Sweden currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Hirdman said EU envoys wanted to meet NTV staffers to exchange ideas on the current situation at the network.
NTV General-Director Yevgeny Kiselyov has accused the Russian government of trying to clamp down on media freedom.
NTV staffers have been questioned by prosecutors in recent days, prompting them to appeal to President Vladimir Putin not to interfere with the station's independence.