Lebedev to Use Paper to Fight Graft

ReutersLebedev, pictured speaking at a news conference on Thursday, asked reporters not to refer to him as an oligarch.
Alexander Lebedev said Thursday that he would use the Evening Standard to help Prime Minister Vladimir Putin fight corruption, although he said he would need to invest "tens of millions of pounds" into the loss-making newspaper "for at least two years."

Lebedev, a former State Duma deputy and KGB officer, said he saw possibilities for "synergy" between the British tabloid and Novaya Gazeta, in which he owns a stake. Issues for joint coverage could include "gas in Europe, corruption, ecological issues, such as global warming," he said.

The liberal Novaya Gazeta, which also counts former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as a co-owner, focuses on investigative reporting, and Lebedev said that this week's killing of a freelance journalist working for the paper "undoubtedly" was related to her work, Interfax reported.

Lebedev and his son Yevgeny agreed to buy control of Evening Standard from Daily Mail and General Trust for a "nominal sum," DMGT said Wednesday. He said Thursday that he had sold property in Italy and an airplane that he frequently used to help fund the purchase.

"The purchase has a social mission," Lebedev told reporters. "I would like to help the newspaper to survive and become profitable. It doesn't have debts, it has losses."

He vowed to preserve the Standard's editorial policy but also said he would put his "own stamp" on the project.

"There have already been cuts by the previous owners — changes are inevitable," he said. "You could change the chief editor, for example, and other key people in the newspaper."

Lebedev, who was worth billions until markets collapsed last year, said last week that he had been talking with owners of top British newspapers, including Evening Standard owner Lord Rothermere, for more than a year.

"I would like to achieve some result with the Evening Standard first, and then in about half a year or a year the economic situation may improve."

On Monday, an unidentified gunman shot dead Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasia Baburova and lawyer Stanislav Markelov, shortly after a news conference where Markelov denounced the release of a former Army colonel serving a 10-year murder sentence.

"Undoubtedly, regardless of what the investigators turn up, there's no way [this death] couldn't be tied to the newspaper," Lebedev said, adding that "we already know a lot that we aren't ready to release."

Several of the newspapers' reporters have had "official protection" for the past month and a half, but "unfortunately we haven't been able to protect all of our reporters," Lebedev said. Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in 2006.

"We'll probably turn to the Federal Security Service with a fairly original request: If they can't protect us themselves, let the reporters start carrying weapons."

He also dismissed suggestions that he still had connections with the FSB, saying he left in 1992. He also implored reporters not to refer to him as an oligarch.

"I have written Steve Forbes a letter and asked him to remove me from this silly list and replace me with a very senior figure in the Russian government who probably has more money than I have," Lebedev said.

(Bloomberg, Reuters, MT)