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Russian billionaire Usmanov buys publisher Kommersant

Billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who owns Russia's second- and third-biggest iron ore mines, bought Kommersant publishing house for $300 million in the country's biggest publishing deal. Usmanov's purchase of all of the business will be completed within two days and has Kremlin approval, the Kommersant daily newspaper said in a report yesterday. He is also CEO of Gazprominvestholding, the investment arm of state-controlled OAO Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas company. „Like any Russian businessman I've loved Kommersant for 15 years. I wanted to diversify and to become involved in a part of business that is more creative,” Usmanov said in a telephone interview in Moscow. The billionaire said he has yet to decide whether to buy more publishing assets.

Gazprom last year added Moscow-based daily newspaper Izvestia to its stable of media assets, raising concern about press freedoms under President Vladimir Putin. Gazprom's takeover in 2001 of NTV, Russia's last national independent TV station, sparked a series of protests in Moscow. Putin and Gazprom said at the time the NTV dispute was purely a business matter. Moscow-based Kommersant publishes a daily business paper, and the magazines Vlast and Dengi. It owns 12 regional publishing houses. Until February, Kommersant had been owned by billionaire Boris Berezovsky, who now lives in exile in London and sold the newspaper back then at an undisclosed price to his Georgian business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili. Usmanov, born in Uzbekistan, sold his stake in Corus Group Plc, the UK's biggest steelmaker, in December 2004 after that company's shares gained about 80% in a year. (Bloomberg)