Alexander Lebedev: The former spy turned media owner

While working for the downfall of capitalism as a young KGB agent in London in the 1980s, Alexander Lebedev might have thought it preposterous that one day he would control a British newspaper.

But, in an ironic twist, that is exactly what will happen today if the Russian oligarch and former spy secures a 75 per cent stake in the London Evening Standard.

Lebedev, who made his fortune mostly through stakes in banking and insurance companies and Russian airline Aeroflot, is not a newcomer to the industry, having founded the news magazine Korrespondent.

With former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he also jointly owns the liberal Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose correspondent Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in 2006. Lebedev reportedly offered $1m as a reward for information to bring her killers to justice.

However, despite his extreme wealth, the 49-year-old has been at pains to distance himself from other super-rich compatriots who have bought up British institutions, claiming in an interview with The Guardian that his motives for buying the Standard were not opportunistic but idealistic.

The best known Russian oligarch in Britain is almost certainly Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who is worth an estimated £11.7 billion.

But, according to Forbes magazine, he was overtaken as Russia’s richest man by Oleg Deripaska, who built up his £16.8 billion fortune in banking and metals and now owns British van firm LDV.

Last summer, Deripaska found himself at the centre of a media storm over his friendship with Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne.

Other Russian tycoons with stakes in Premiership clubs include Alisher Usmanov, a Kremlin insider who owns a 24 per cent stake in Arsenal FC and is worth an estimated £5.7 billion, and Alexandre Gaydamak, the co-owner of Portsmouth.

Worth £667 million, Boris Berezovsky became one of the first Russian oligarchs to settle in London when he fled Moscow in 2001 after falling out with Vladimir Putin.

He once employed Alexander Litvinenko, the former spy who died in a London hospital in 2006 from radiation poisoning.

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