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Demyan Kudryavtsev

Selling ‘Vedomosti’ Sources say two media entrepreneurs with tangled political histories are buying Russia’s leading business newspaper

Source: Meduza
Demyan Kudryavtsev
Demyan Kudryavtsev
Andrey Gordeyev / Vedomosti / PhotoXPress

Meduza has learned that media manager Demyan Kudryavtsev and his business partners have found potential buyers for the newspaper Vedomosti, one of Russia’s leading business-oriented publications. On Wednesday, March 11, the newspaper’s owners signed an agreement expressing their intention to sell. According to Meduza’s sources, ownership of Vedomosti may pass to Alexey Golubovich, the founder of the investment company Arbat Capital, and to Konstantin Zyatkov, the former editor-in-chief of Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts) and current president of the tabloid publisher Nasha Versiya (Our Take).

Disclaimer: Tatiana Lysova, Meduza’s first deputy editor-in-chief, is on the board of directors for Vedomosti and served as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief until 2017. She did not participate in the preparation or editing of this story.

Demyan Kudryavtsev and two of his business partners, Vladimir Voronov and Martin Pompadur, purchased the business newspaper Vedomosti in 2015. Now, two sources told Meduza, the entrepreneurs are nearing a sale agreement for the outlet. One of our sources learned of the forthcoming sale from the newspaper’s buyers, and the other received information about the deal from the sellers. Both said that on Wednesday, March 11, the two sides signed a letter of intent. The sources added that Vedomosti’s potential buyers are investment firm founder Alexey Golubovich and former Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts) Editor-in-Chief Konstantin Zyatkov.

Now that an agreement has been signed, the due diligence process for Vedomosti is set to begin, according to one source who spoke with Meduza. That procedure entails a check on the financial and legal state of Vedomosti’s assets. We were unable to determine the sum for which the newspaper will be sold: Both the source familiar with the sellers and the source close to the buyers said the agreement signed on March 11 includes a set of conditions that will later affect the final size of the deal. Those conditions include developments in currency values (the ruble has devaluated rapidly in recent days) as well as Vedomosti’s own financial indicators. About a year ago, the business newspaper Kommersant reported that Vedomosti would likely be sold for approximately the same price assigned to it in 2015; that is, 15 million euros ($16.8 million). One of our own sources confirmed that the sum in question is “no less than that.”

Arbat Capital founder Alexey Golubovich has been in negotiations to purchase Vedomosti for more than a year, but both of our sources said the talks have been “on and off.” “He would alternate between moving toward Kudryavtsev and stepping away. Just couldn’t make the final call. And then Zyatkov showed up, but he took it slow as well. Ultimately, Demyan introduced them in the hope that they would finally commit together,” one source said. Golubovich’s interest in purchasing Vedomosti was indeed reported about a year ago, but the investor denied any involvement in negotiations at the time.

Voronov, Pompadur, and Kudryavtsev purchased Vedomosti in 2015 from the newspaper’s foreign shareholders (Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones, Financial Times publisher Pearson, and the Finnish media conglomerate Sanoma) shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law limiting foreign shareholders to 20-percent ownership in Russian media companies. Kudryavtsev said at the time that his family had bought shares in Vedomosti while his business partners purchased debts from previous shareholders, meaning that Vedomosti was placed in Voronov and Pompadur’s debt.

However, in 2017, Kudryavtsev lost his Russian citizenship, meaning that he was no longer legally permitted to own the newspaper. The business database SPARK-Interfax indicates that Business News Media, Vedomosti’s publisher, was transferred in that year to Kudryavtsev’s wife, Yana Mozel-Kudryavtseva, through her own joint-stock company, Arkan Investment. In February 2020, however, Kudryavtsev told the channel RTVi that ownership of Vedomosti had been transferred again, this time to the “family” of his business partner Vladimir Voronov.

Both of Meduza’s sources asserted that the shift to Voronov’s ownership was a mere formality. “It’s not so important who the legally registered owner of the newspaper is. For instance, it’s Demyan [and not Voronov or Pompadur] who’s holding talks with the new buyers. It’s pretty obvious that there’s a kind of agreement between the three partners here, and they’ve all retained a financial interest in the publication,” one source explained. Anonymous sources had also previously confirmed to the economic outlet The Bell that “transferring the paper from one [business partner’s] relatives to another’s was probably a technical necessity dictated by personal circumstance” and that “no real sale of Vedomosti has yet taken place.”

What we know about the potential buyers

Alexey Golubovich owns the investment firm Arbat Capital, which he founded in 2007. In the early 1990s, he worked publishing finance papers and later took over the investment branch of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Menatep banking group while working as a top manager at Khodorkovsky’s ill-fated Yukos oil company. In 2004, Golubovich was federally and internationally wanted in a fraud case that was heard separately from the case against Yukos itself. In early 2007, Golubovich voluntarily returned to Moscow. According to Kommersant, Russian prosecutors had promised to drop the charges against the investor in exchange for testimony against Yukos shareholders Platon Lebedev and Leonid Nevzlin as well as Khodorkovsky himself. Golubovich was subsequently listed as a witness in the Russian government’s second case against Yukos. At first, Golubovich’s testimony appeared to bolster the defense, but just a day into his hearings, the investor walked back his previous statements and gave new testimony that favored the prosecution.

Konstantin Zyatkov was editor-in-chief at the weekly newspaper Arguments and Facts from 2002 through 2016. In 2002, Zyatkov was also the paper’s co-owner, holding a 24-percent share in its associated joint-stock company. A few years later, however, 99 percent of Arguments and Facts was purchased by Promsvyazbank, itself owned by the wealthy Ananyev brothers, Alexey and Dmitry. Both are currently wanted in an embezzlement case involving their own bank and have hidden abroad rather than facing prosecution in Russia; Arguments and Facts was ultimately incorporated into the Ananyevs’ Media3 group. Soon after his deal with the two brothers, Zyatkov bought Our Take from the widow of journalist Artyom Borovik, who founded the tabloid in 1998 as Top Secret Take. One of Meduza’s sources emphasized that most of Zyatkov’s wealth is derived from the sale of his share in Arguments and Facts.

The most recent available data in SPARK-Interfax actually indicates that as late as 2012, Zyatkov still owned an 0.2 percent share in the paper. In 2014, the firm Moscow Informational Technologies, which is owned by the Moscow government, purchased Arguments and Facts, and the identities of the publication’s shareholders are no longer public knowledge.

Zyatkov left Arguments and Facts in late 2016 by a mutual agreement with the publication’s leadership. In 2017, he became president and chief editor for the media publisher Our Take, whose eponymous tabloid had already belonged to him for a full decade. The paper has expanded from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Saratov, the Northern Caucasus, Chuvashia, Bashkiria, Tatarstan, and Kirov. Zyatkov owns 100 percent of Dialan, Ltd., which holds the trademark for Our Take.

Following his departure from Arguments and Facts, Konstantin Zyatkov worked alongside his son, fellow media mogul Nikolai Zyatkov. The younger Zyatkov owns the domain for Novaya Versiya (New Take) through the firm Versiya (Take), Ltd. He is also the CEO of Our Take.

In a 2016 interview with Our Take itself, Konstantin Zyatkov said the following about his newspaper: “Fortunately, Our Take clearly stands out from numerous other publications. It just so happens that all of our writers are Russian patriots. […] Even in our critical pieces (where we don’t give a pass to thieving bureaucrats), we don’t sink into despondency and empty negation. Constructive criticism is what a lot of people like. It was extremely pleasing that members of the ONF [All-Russia People’s Front] contacted us to add a bit to their critical baggage, but of course, our line is a good deal further along than theirs.”

According to SPARK-Interfax, Take, Ltd.’s revenue in 2018 was 100 million rubles (about $1.6 million), and 70 percent of that was profit. Dialan, Ltd. made 107 million rubles (about $1.7 million) in 2018, with 12 million (about $193,500) remaining as profit.

What the buyers and sellers say

When Meduza asked Demyan Kudryavtsev whether he had really signed a letter of intent to sell Vedomosti, the entrepreneur responded, “That’s incorrect. I haven’t made an agreement with anybody to sell Vedomosti.” Vladimir Voronov also denied that an agreement had been reached. However, he said he could neither confirm nor deny that he had negotiated with Golubovich and Zyatkov. “Negotiations have been held with a range of people,” he said.

Alexey Golubovich did not respond to Meduza’s calls. Konstantin Zyatkov told us that he had not signed an agreement to buy Vedomosti, nor had he taken part in negotiations to do so. His son, Nikolai Zyatkov, told Meduza that there is no letter of intent and that he has not been involved in talks to buy Vedomosti. “That’s interesting. We’ll keep an eye out. Thanks for asking,” he said.

Report by Pyotr Lokhov with assistance from Anastasia Yakoreva

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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