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    Kremlin-friendly bank takes over last independent TV channel

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    Surgutneftegaz [RTS: SNGS] has sold a 75% stake in Media-Invest that holds 35% in REN TV, widely considered the most independent of Russia's national television channels, to a Kremlin-connected bank, the Kommersant daily quoted the company as saying Friday.

    MOSCOW, April 13 (RIA Novosti) - Surgutneftegaz [RTS: SNGS] has sold a 75% stake in Media-Invest that holds 35% in REN TV, widely considered the most independent of Russia's national television channels, to a Kremlin-connected bank, the Kommersant daily quoted the company as saying Friday.

    Russia's major oil producer sold the stake to the investment company Abros, a subsidiary of the bank Rossiya, which will now have a 70% stake in REN TV.

    Rossiya, said to be run by Putin associates, is among Russia's top 50 banks. As of October 1, 2006, its assets were worth 30.2 billion rubles (about $1.14 billion).

    According to SmartMoney, the St. Petersburg-based bank gained its fame because many of its former managers and co-owners received top government jobs and posts in state-run companies after Vladimir Putin was elected president.

    Among them are Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko, Russian Railways (RZD) President Vladimir Yakunin, and some one-time Gazprom managers.

    The bank's majority shareholder, Yury Kovalchuk, is considered a friend of Putin's since the 1990s when he became his next-door neighbor at the summer house cooperative Ozero.

    National Association of Telebroadcasters President Eduard Sagalayev said previously REN TV has been the last national television network that has pursued an independent information policy, as much as was possible in today's conditions.

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