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Media magnate to pull holdings from Russia

Lebedev pronounced himself defeated.

MOSCOW: Russian tycoon and London media magnate Alexander Lebedev said Friday he intended to wind down his Moscow holdings because of unrelenting pressure from the Kremlin-run security services.

The Independent and London Evening Standard owner saw his main Russian bank raided repeatedly by the police and has in the past accused corrupt state officials of trying to run him out of business.

But the 52-year-old former foreign intelligence officer refused to blame President Vladimir Putin directly despite his past criticism of the Russian strongman’s 12-year rule.

Lebedev instead pronounced himself defeated by the Federal Security Service – the main successor to the mighty KGB service from which Putin graduated and an increasingly powerful force in Russian politics.

“This is it. I give up. The security services won,” he told Interfax. Forbes magazine last estimated Lebedev to be worth $1.1 billion

“They have taken turns going after my personal life, my business partners and my political beliefs,” he said.

“I am not saying ‘the Kremlin’ – I am saying ‘security service officers.’ That is what they [the security officers] tell me themselves: that this is an ordered attack,” he separately told the Gazeta.ru website.

The fluent English speaker had long stood out from most oligarchs who dropped politics with Putin in power and focused on preserving the friendliest of ties possible with the state.

Lebedev instead joined former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to fund the critical Novaya Gazeta paper, and recently helped push Putin foe and anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny to the board of the state flag carrier Aeroflot.

He has also penned pieces for Western dailies ridiculing the Russian court system’s dependence on the Kremlin and has even weighed in with criticism of the state for jailing three protesters from the Pussy Riot all-girl punk band.His business interests in Russia came under pressure but appeared to largely hold up in the face of activism few others in his position have tried since the jailing of Putin critic and former Yukos oil boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky.Lebedev said that the campaign against his Russian holdings had intensified in the months since Putin’s May 7 return for a third Kremlin term. “They accuse me of being the chief sponsor of the opposition, which is just ridiculous,” he told Moscow Echo radio.

“More than 80 percent of my executives have quit already,” Lebedev told Gazeta.ru

“They are working with specific people, trying to scare them by saying that if they do not quit now, they will never be able to find work again.”

Lebedev added that he had sent a letter to Putin laying out his problems and demanding a probe into the security service’s work. The Kremlin has thus far issued no response.

Lebedev had previously suggested banking and other rivals were the primary culprits of his problems in Russia.

Yet his latest flurry of interviews shifted the focus more directly on politics and shadowy security generals’ refusal to allow even his rivals to purchase his business holdings so that he could leave Russia for good.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 04, 2012, on page 11.

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