Huffpost Media

Ex-KGB Agent In Talks To Buy British Newspaper

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LONDON — Russian billionaire and former KGB spy Alexander Lebedev is interested in buying a British newspaper, his spokesman said Thursday.

But Lebedev's spokesman, Artem Artemov, declined to confirm British media reports that Lebedev was close to taking a controlling stake in London's Evening Standard. The Guardian newspaper reported that Lebedev, 49, would take a 76-percent stake in the Standard, London's afternoon paper.

Artemov said Lebedev "is interested in supporting independent media, not only in Russia but also in Great Britain or anywhere else. ... media that have social value but are having some difficulties because of the financial crisis."

"He is interested The Times, or maybe The Independent or other newspapers ... and also the Evening Standard," Artemov said.

Lebedev, who made a fortune in banking and aviation, is part owner of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, one of the few media outlets critical of the Russian government.

The Evening Standard's owner, the Daily Mail and General Trust, declined to comment on the reports. Neither the Times nor The Independent had any comment on Artemov's remarks.

Lebedev, part owner of Russia's Aeroflot airline, was ranked by Forbes magazine last year as the world's 358th richest man, worth more than $3 billion, although his fortune has been hit hard by the global economic downturn.

His takeover of a British newspaper would be contentious because Lebedev is a former Russian intelligence agent.

The Evening Standard _ Britain's only paid-for daily aimed solely at the London market _ takes a right-of-center editorial line similar to its national sister paper, The Daily Mail.

Lebedev was quoted in The Guardian as saying that if he became owner of the Standard he would not interfere with the paper's editorial line.

The Guardian quoted Lebedev as saying that his editorial influence would be "next to zero."

The Standard is reported to lose millions of pounds (dollars) a year, and Lebedev told the Guardian he was not trying to buy a newspaper to make a profit.

"As far as I'm concerned this has nothing to do with making money," he was quoted as saying. "There are lots of other ways. This is a good way to waste money."