Mogul under pressure to sell assets

A tycoon whose holdings include a newspaper critical of the Kremlin says he wants to sell his Russian assets because of pressure from the security services.

Alexander Lebedev's net worth is estimated by Forbes to be £715.9 million.

He made his money in the banking industry and owns a stake in Russian flag carrier Aeroflot as well as his own Red Wings airline. He also finances paper Novaya Gazeta, which is fiercely critical of the Kremlin, and two British newspapers - the Independent and the Evening Standard.

Lebedev said on his blog that corruption investigations by Novaya Gazeta were the reason behind the Russian Federal Security Service's pressure on him. But he declined to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he believed the Kremlin was not involved in attacking him. "For the past three years my business has been deliberately and continuously destroyed by Division K of the Federal Security Service's economic security department," Mr Lebedev said on his blog. "Haunting and pressure has targeted not only me and workers of my companies, but my family members as well."

He said the main reason behind the Russian Federal Security Service's pressure on him was investigations by the Novaya Gazeta, alleging that some of its officers were involved in corruption. Lebedev and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev own a 49% stake in the newspaper, while the remaining shares are controlled by Novaya's staffers.

The Novaya Gazeta's relentless criticism of the Kremlin and its investigations into official corruption have put many of its journalists under fire. Four of its reporters have been killed since 2000, including Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin and its policies in Chechnya who was gunned down in the lift of her Moscow apartment building in 2006. Others have been harassed and attacked.

Mr Lebedev said on Ekho Moskvy radio that he may hand over some of his assets to Novaya so that the newspaper may continue operation, because he no longer has no cash to keep funding it. He has also supported Alexei Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption crusader and blogger who was a key driving force against massive protests in the past winter against Mr Putin's rule.

Earlier this week, Mr Navalny was charged with theft amid a widening crackdown on dissent that followed Mr Putin's re-election to a third term in March. He may face 10 years in prison if convicted.

Mr Lebedev, a KGB veteran like Mr Putin, has avoided blaming the president for his woes. He said that security officers targeted him because he was the "main sponsor of the opposition", but dismissed that claim as "utter rubbish". He added, however, that he had expected the Kremlin to intervene to stop attacks on him.

Mr Lebedev has made his money in the banking industry and owns the National Reserve Bank. He also has a stake in Russian flag carrier Aeroflot and owns Red Wings airline and other assets. He said that it would be hard for him to sell his assets because the security services would discourage any potential buyers. He said he had no intention of leaving Russia, adding that he would try to take a more active role in politics.