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Russian oligarch buys British newspaper for nominal sum - Summary


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Tue, 27 Jan 2009 05:36
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London - Russian billionaire businessman and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev has bought London's Evening Standard newspaper for the nominal sum of one pound (1.37 dollars), its publishers said Wednesday. Lebedev, 49, who has revealed that he relied heavily on the paper for information when he was assigned as an agent to the former Soviet embassy in London in the 1980s, is expected to hold a share of 76 per cent in the title.

The Evening Standard, London's only evening paper, was established in 1827 and belongs to Associated Newspapers, which is part of The Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) of press baron Lord Rothermere.

DMGT's Associated Newspapers division is to retain a minority share of 24.9 per cent.

Lebedev, whose fortune is estimated at 3.1 billion dollars, already owns a 30-per-cent stake in Russian airline Aeroflot. In 2006, he bought Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta with ex-leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He also has major interests in banking and insurance and owns a string of boutique hotels in several European countries.

The Evening Standard deal marks the first time a Russian oligarch has owned a British newspaper title.

"We are strong supporters of a free and independent press and we greatly admire the Evening Standard as an iconic publication with its pedigree of fine journalism and commentary," Lebedev said Wednesday.

DMGT said the Evening Standard would pass into the hands of Evening Press, a company formed by Lebedev and his son, Evgeny, and owned by Lebedev Holdings.

In a clear attempt to defuse any controversy surrounding the sale, and fears over the paper's editorial independence, DMGT said the Evening Standard would establish a new editorial committee to "safeguard the principle of editorial independence."

The transaction is expected to take place in February following consultations with employees.

Evening Standard finance director Peter Williams said the Standard was losing money and had faced declining revenues for many years. Its circulation had fallen to 285,000 from 500,000.

The Standard was hit by the advertising downturn affecting the industry and by the launch of two rival free evening papers in London in 2006 - one by Associated Newspapers itself and the other by rival newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Reports Wednesday said Lebedev was planning to set up a high- calibre editorial and advisory board that could include names such as Gorbachev, former British prime minister Tony Blair, former French president Jacques Chirac and leading Russian editors.

DMGT chief executive Martin Morgan Wednesday praised the Lebedev takeover: "Our view is that the Lebedevs have a good record in newspaper ownership and staff on their papers have certainly reported that they do not interfere in editorial."

Lord Rothermere said DMGT had been "proud to have owned the Evening Standard, a paper with a long and distinguished history.

"I believe that Alexander Lebedev shares my commitment to newspapers and will continue to invest in the Evening Standard."


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