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MOSCOW: Russian tycoon and London media magnate Alexander Lebedev said Friday he intended to wind down his Moscow holdings because of unrelenting pressure from Kremlin-run security services.
The Independent and London Evening Standard owner has seen his main Russian bank raided repeatedly by the police in the past two years and has in the past accused corrupt state officials of trying to run him out of business.
But the flamboyant 52-year-old former foreign intelligence officer refused to blame the Kremlin directly, despite his past criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
“This is all too much. There is a well-planned campaign being waged against me,” Lebedev told the Gazeta.ru website.
“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.”
Lebedev, who according to Forbes magazine is estimated to be worth $1.1 billion has stood out among other oligarchs for voicing occasional criticism of Putin’s 12-year domination of Russia.
He has also funded the Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper, a critical voice whose corruption reporter Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in 2006.
He most recently used his 15-percent stake in national flag carrier Aeroflot to push through the candidacy of anti-Putin protest leader Alexei Navalny to the board of the state-held firm.
But Lebedev said that the campaign against his Russian holdings had only intensified in the months since Putin’s May 7 return for a third Kremlin term.
“More than 80 percent of my workers have quit,” he said.
“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.”
Reports of the Federal Security Service — the main successor to the KGB Putin once headed — working with specific tycoons to squeeze their rivals out of business have circulated in the Russian media for years.
Lebedev never mentioned a specific business interest that might benefit from his downfall.
But he said the campaign had made it almost impossible for him to sell his interests because potential buyers were seeking prior approval from the state — a vote of confidence that Lebedev said had not been issued.
“There are buyers, but they are seeking permission from the top just as they are supposed to in our country,” he said. -- AFP