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Abramovich Buys 49% of ORT

Roman Abramovich, an oil tycoon and governor of the Chukotka region, has bought out mogul Boris Berezovsky's 49 percent stake in state-controlled ORT television, a source close to Abramovich confirmed Monday.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said Abramovich did not have any plans to install any representatives on ORT's board at an upcoming meeting, thus putting the channel firmly into government hands.

The deal brings an end to a drawn-out tussle for control of the nation's largest television station amid accusations by Berezovsky, now living abroad in self-imposed exile, that the Kremlin was trying to push him out.

"Roughly speaking, yes, he [Abramovich] paid off Berezovsky on behalf of the Kremlin," said the source close to Abramovich.

He would not disclose how much was paid for the stake.

Prior to the deal, Berezovsky said he controlled 49 percent of ORT, with the rest being held by the government. State-owned Vneshekonombank holds 13 percent ?€” split evenly between the government and privately held portfolios ?€” as collateral against a $100 million debt.

ORT board member and Berezovsky associate Igor Shabdurasulov also said Monday that the transaction was completed.

"It seems a third-rate organization was empowered to buy the shares on paper only," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Dorenko said he plans to fight to keep his position at ORT.

Last week, the government announced plans to nominate all 11 members of ORT's board. Interfax reported that Berezovsky's representatives ?€” including his longtime proxy at ORT, Badri Patarkatsishvili, daughter Yekaterina and favorite anchor Sergei Dorenko ?€” will be replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi and President Vladimir Putin's deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov.

Since ORT's founding in 1995, its board of directors has had few powers but served as an indicator of who was influencing the channel's editorial policies. Last June, for example, Berezovsky brought his daughter and Dorenko onboard.

ORT's general director has to be nominated by Putin and appointed by the board. The post is currently held by Konstantin Ernst, whose appointment by then-President Boris Yeltsin was seen as a compromise between the Kremlin and Berezovsky. The Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers reported Monday that Ernst has a good chance of retaining the post.

Dorenko, who has earned himself the nickname of "Berezovsky's Bulldog" for the enthusiasm with which he projected Berezovsky's interests on ORT broadcasts, said Monday that he received a pink slip from Ernst last month and was ready to fight to keep his job.

"As of today, I remain deputy general director of ORT and a member of ORT's board," Dorenko was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"No matter who is included in the board, the real power will belong not to them, but to the Kremlin," Dorenko added.

Eduard Sagalayev, the founder of TV6 television, said Monday that he will give up his post of board chairman at the second-tier network, Interfax reported.

Sagalayev, who gave Berezovsky control of TV6 in 1998 through a stake sale, said he wanted to focus on his job as president of the National Association of Television Broadcasters.

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