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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebedev Offers Stock for Free to Lure Big Names

Billionaire Alexander Lebedev offered to give away shares in some of his firms to lure big business names into Russia but said he fears overextending his media interests by making further foreign acquisitions.

Sneakers-wearing Lebedev, who controls a sprawling business empire, said he would offer stock to figures like Warren Buffett or Irish low-cost aviation boss Michael O’Leary to draw them into the Russian market.

“I would like to have big western names as partners in my equity investments, I’m not looking for any funding. Frankly, I could give it out for free, in some cases,” Lebedev said Monday.

“Yes, if Warren Buffett agrees to take a 2 or 3 percent stake in my housing company free of charge for 1 ruble that would bring me expertise,” he said.

Better known in Britain for taking control of the London Evening Standard newspaper, Lebedev said that while he admired Britain’s Independent newspaper, he was not looking to buy it.

Lebedev ruled out any future stake in the Independent’s publisher, Independent News & Media, where two key shareholders are locked in a boardroom squabble as they struggle to pay bonds of the heavily indebted group.

Lebedev has been named as a possible purchaser of the Independent, which one major shareholder wants to either sell or close because of its losses.

“We’ve got plenty of work to do with the Standard,” he said.

“I don’t want to be seen as irresponsible,” said Lebedev, whose empire includes banking, agriculture, airlines and publishing.

“At the moment, I’d rather say we will focus on the huge task which is still facing us [at the Standard]. There may be some quite radical changes in the autumn within this framework,” he said. He did not elaborate when asked about the changes.

“I like the Independent, I’d like very much to save any good newspaper in the world,” said Lebedev.

Apart from Buffett, the world’s second-richest person and a revered investor, Lebedev said he would be ready to give away some of his 30 percent stake in Aeroflot to investors David Bonderman or Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“Let’s assume that within my 30 percent, 5 percent I distribute between Bonderman, O’Leary… it makes my position much stronger,” he said. Lebedev also controls two other airlines, Red Wings and German-based Blue Wings.