The thinking man's oligarch with his eye on a British institution

Billionaire bidding for 'Evening Standard' has blazed a trail for press freedom in Russia

Negotiations that would turn a Russian billionaire into a British newspaper owner stalled last night, as the parent company of the Evening Standard reacted angrily to leaks about the potential sale of the title. Alexander Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and ally of former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, is seeking to buy a majority shareholding in the loss-making London paper. But its owner, Associated Newspapers, which also owns the Daily Mail, is holding out for guarantees about its future.

It is understood that the Standard's proprietor, Lord Rothermere, wants reassurances that the potential new owner sees the paper as a long-term investment. The Standard reportedly loses up to £25m a year, and it is thought that Mr Lebedev wants it for the prestige and political influence that newspaper ownership can confer.

Late last summer, Mr Lebedev set up a new political entity, The Independent Democratic Party of Russia, with Mr Gorbachev. The very fact that a rich businessman would launch such an enterprise in modern-day Russia was surprising, where getting rich and opposing the Kremlin tend to be mutually exclusive. "It's not an exaggeration to call him a 'thinking oligarch'," says one person who knows him well. "He has a sound moral compass, unlike many of our rich people."

Like Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Mr Lebedev spent the twilight years of the Soviet Union in the KGB. He worked under diplomatic cover in London, where one of his duties was reading the British press and reporting back to Moscow. It's an ironic twist that he now looks set to own a majority stake in one of the papers he used to study so meticulously.

Mr Lebedev made his fortune in banking and his current portfolio includes a stake in the Russian national airline, Aeroflot, though he is now worth significantly less than his pre-credit crisis valuation of $3.1bn (£2.1bn). He has used his wealth for a number of philanthropic projects, and with his son Evgeny runs the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, a British-based charity dedicated to tackling child cancer. Evgeny is a fixture on the capital's social scene and many expect him to take control of the day-to-day running of the Standard.

Should his bid succeed, the Standard would not be Mr Lebedev's first media venture. He has stakes in a series of newspapers in Russia, including a 49 per cent share (along with Mr Gorbachev) in Novaya Gazeta, a low-circulation paper renowned for its criticism of the Kremlin. Several of its reporters have paid for their journalism with their lives, most recently Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead outside her apartment in Moscow two years ago. The most recent issue of the paper carries a report on Chechen separatists, a subject unlikely feature in any other Russian newspaper. "In the two and a half years he's been with the paper he has never interfered with editorial policy," said Dmitry Muratov, Novaya Gazeta's editor.

He has been careful, while positioning himself as an opposition figure, never to step too far out of line. After all, the last "thinking oligarch" – the head of the Yukos oil empire Mikhail Khodorkovsky – is now in a Siberian prison serving eight years on tax evasion charges that most people believe were politically motivated.

Last year Mr Lebedev closed another of his newspapers, the little-read Moskovsky Korrespondent, after it alleged that Mr Putin was having an affair with – and planning to marry, the gymnast Alina Kabaeva. Nevertheless, his political views have made him the bête noire of Russia's bureaucratic class. "His association with Novaya Gazeta causes problems for his businesses," says Mr Muratov. "He has a lot of interesting ideas, many of which would be supported by the President and Prime Minister, but are blocked by bureaucrats who don't like his political views."

He also faces obstacles in his bid for the Standard, as many clearly feel it is inappropriate for a British paper to be run on Russian cash. But Mr Lebedev hopes to persuade Londoners that he is not just another oligarch looking for a plaything in the British capital.

Oligarchs in the UK

Roman Abramovich

He bought Chelsea FC in 2003 for £150m, having made a fortune from Russia's oil, gas and aluminium industries. In 2008, Forbes named him the world's 16th richest man.

Oleg Deripaska

Deripaska, 41, the man who played host to Peter Mandelson and George Osborne on his yacht last year, has been described as Russia's richest man but he says he isn't. His company owns LDV, the rump of Leyland Daf.

Alisher Usmanov

Usmanov, who is of Uzbek origin, owns nearly a quarter of Arsenal FC.

Alexandre Gaydamak

Born in France in 1976, he co-owns Portsmouth FC. His father, a Russian Jew, bought into Russian newspapers.

Boris Berezovsky

Berezovsky, 62, was the first mega-rich Russian to settle in the UK, after falling foul of Vladimir Putin. Russia wants him extradited.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower