Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, has been explaining why he wanted to become the new owner of a London newspaper that loses millions every year.
Former Soviet spy Lebedev paid a nominal sum – just over one euro – for the Evening Standard and said he plans to pump tens of millions into it. At a news conference he admitted that his takeover has provoked “lots of strange comments.” He added: “On one hand, I am glad that it’s stirred up such interest. On the other hand, I am very concerned – it is a very serious responsibility. All newspapers in the world without exception are in the gravest financial difficulties.” Lebedev insisted that he would not influence the paper’s editorial policy and that he is on what he called a “social mission” to help it survive. He said he plans to create a powerful global media group. In Russia the 47-year-old owns or co-owns two newspapers which take an opposition line to the Kremlin. He is not a typical Russian oligarch having made his fortune in banking and insurance, rather than commodities. Facing competition from free newspapers, the Evening Standard has lost money for several years and recently has suffered a steep fall in advertising revenues. Lebedev said he sold a villa in Italy and one of his private jets to raise some of the money to invest in the paper.