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Evening Standard owner says may be jailed in Russia for seven years

posted 25 Sep 2012, 09:36 by Mpelembe   [ updated 25 Sep 2012, 09:37 ]

Russian banker and media magnate, the Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev says he faces pressure from the authorities and may be jailed in Russia for seven years.

Russian banker and media magnate Alexander Lebedev said on Tuesday (September 25) he might be jailed in a criminal case he regards as politically motivated.
"It looks like things have started to come to the point. And I have to thank the authorities for having tolerated me for such a long time allowing me for seven years to publish the most influential free oppositionary newspaper, and also voicing my views on certain wrong things," Lebedev said at the Reuters Investment Summit in Moscow.

The 52-year-old billionaire backer of two British newspapers - The Independent and London's Evening Standard - gave no further details about the case that might bring him to jail, implying the rising pressure is coming from the so-called "siloviki" - a team of former KGB and army seniors at the heart of the Russian ruling elite.

In Russia, he also has a stake in Novaya Gazeta, a campaigning newspaper that has criticised the Kremlin and exposed corruption in Russia, and is a shareholder in state energy company Gazprom and state-controlled airline Aeroflot.

Although he says he is not involved in opposition politics, Lebedev is unusual among wealthy Russian businessmen or oligarchs in criticising the Kremlin.

Most have avoided doing so since the arrest in 2003 of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky after he defied Putin by taking an interest in opposition politics. He is still in jail.

Lebedev's answers suggested he tried to expose corruption in the Russian banking sector but was then confronted by rogue elements in the so-called "krysha" - a Russian gangster slang word meaning "roof" which became well-known during a much-publicised London court battle between Russian tycoons Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky. "Krysha" means political cover and protection in Russia.

"Especially in the banking sector when I was investigating personally fraud in 150 banks for more than 100 billion U.S. dollars. And each case is a case where you have somebody which is called "krysha" in the Central Bank and in "siloviki" certain bodies. And that's why we came to the collision of probably me facing a very serious opportunity of being jailed," Lebedev said.

"I don't think that otherwise they would come up with very serious charges against you which is up to seven years in prison. Why? Scaring me to try to make me emigrate? Well, clearly I was warned officially a week ago about something that's going to happen tomorrow (on Wednesday), and let's wait and see, it's going to happen at two o'clock. I don't see any reason for anybody fabricating a case like that unless they want to put you into prison, pushing you through the judiciary system which, as we all know in Pussy Riot's and other cases, has nothing to do with justice," Lebedev added.

Opposition leaders say the Kremlin has started a crackdown to silence Putin's critics following the biggest protests since he first rose to power in 2000, including pushing through laws increasing fines for protesters, tightening controls of foreign-funded campaign groups and toughening Internet rules.

Lebedev's business interests in Russia include banking, agricultural and construction assets. He said he might start disposing of his Russian assets and sent a clear message to other potential investors in Russia.

"One has to do something which should not be combined. So I won't recommend anybody who is doing business here, especially if you are a foreigner but even to the locals, do not keep it together, business with, say, opposition newspaper. Or any activities that might be looked from the "siloviki" position as being oppositionary, or dissident et cetera," Lebedev said.

He refused to elaborate about the substance of charges yielded at him or any details of what exactly he was waiting to happen on Wednesday (September 26).