30 Jul 2018 19:08

Venediktov quit Ekho board of directors to avoid conflict of interest over radio station's budget

MOSCOW. July 30 (Interfax) - Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov said he quit the radio station's board of directors over a conflict of interest; the decision to replace him with his deputy Yekaterina Godlina was made and approved by shareholders back in late June.

"The decision was due to the fact that a majority of the board of directors supported the budget submitted by the general director, and I voted against. We as minority shareholders voted against, and as a result I had a conflict of interest; I am the board member who recommended the budget and I am the editor-in-chief who can see that this is a bad budget. So I decided at the meeting not to seek another term on the board and nominated my deputy Yekaterina Godlina," Venediktov told Interfax on Monday.

The decision was approved at a shareholders' meeting on June 28, he said. "The meeting was a month ago, it is just some paperwork that was finalized now. At the time the shareholders' meeting elected a new board, where I was not on the list but Katya was," Venediktov said, adding that Godlina has a better understanding of financial matters. "She understands finances professionally, better than I do, of course," Venediktov said.

He clarified that his disagreement with the financial policy was related to the organization's Gazprombank lending that the minority shareholders were unaware of.

"It turned out that President Putin, who talked about the financing, knew more about Ekho Moskvy than its editor-in-chief and minoritarians' representative. This is wrong. It transpired that the lending was taking place without the minoritarians' consent. It was not direct financing but a repayable loan, but at a double-digit interest rate. And the minoritarians had not agreed to it. A conflict of interest is evident. Why would I multiply it [the conflict] and become a schizophrenic?" Venediktov said.

During a televised Q & A session on June 7, when asked by a caller when the state company would stop financing Ekho Moskvy, President Vladimir Putin said that Gazprom was indeed financing the radio station without interfering in its editorial policy. "This, among other things, is testament that we do pay attention to what is called freedom of the press," Putin said.

Venediktov said: "Besides, I will now be relieved of this corporate history: not commenting on the budget as a board member, there are some limitations on this score. But I remain a representative of the minoritarians, and the minoritarians remain on the board through my deputy."

This has nothing to do with the pressure on him, he said. "The decision was made back when Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] spoke, I began my own inquiries and found that he was right and me not quite. So, it's a month-old story really," Venediktov said.

After presentation of the annual report at the June 28 meeting of Ekho Moskvy shareholders, the minority shareholders raised the issue of dismissing General Director Yekaterina Pavlova, but the idea was rejected by the main owner.

Pavlova was re-elected at a shareholders' meeting on June 15. Venediktov told Interfax that her nomination was supported by the radio station's main shareholder, Gazprom Media Holding, which owns 66% in the company. "We voted against," Venediktov said. He said the other 34% are owned by the Russian EMKhK company in which he controls a 49% stake; 46% is held by Ekho's former general director Yury Fedutinov and 5% by the station's lawyer Ilya Kurtov. The U.S. EM-Holding company controlled by businessman Vladimir Gusinsky is no longer an Ekho shareholder.