Media magnate Lebedev asks to join 'Putin Front'

20th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev, owner of two British newspapers, announced Friday that a campaign group he leads will ask to join a coalition being created by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

An anti-corruption campaign group headed by Lebedev, called Our Capital City, said it would apply to join the new coalition of political and social groups announced by Putin earlier this month.

"We are ready ... to support the People's Front created on Vladimir Putin's initiative," Lebedev said in a statement.

Lebedev, who owns the Independent and the Evening Standard in London and co-owns liberal Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta with ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, has been an outspoken critic of Putin in the past and it was unclear why he wanted to join the movement.

He said in the statement that he wanted to use membership to fight corruption, after saying in an interview on Thursday that he was frustrated by interference from the FSB security service into business.

"The leaders of United Russia have said the doors are open to all registered public organisations, ready to cooperate for Russia's benefit. Is a real fight against corruption not to Russia's benefit?" Lebedev said.

Putin's spokesman said Lebedev's group could in principle be admitted.

"We would only welcome new participants, those who share our core values, joining the front," Dmitry Peskov told AFP.

Like Putin, Lebedev served in the KGB security service, the FSB's predecessor, although he has said the men met for the first time in 1998 and he is not a member of Putin's inner circle.

Earlier this week Lebedev posted a whistleblowing video alleging that senior members of the FSB security service were involved in money-laundering, before pulling it the next day saying it was unfinished.

He told news website he had encountered "some problems with Central Bank" after posting the video, in which he alleges that out of Russia's 950 banks, 500-600 are "just laundering shops."

In the interview published Thursday, he said he intended to drop business for two months and "become an ordinary person and carry out public activities."

"Why bother with business if it exists in conditions of a battle with the FSB?" asked Lebedev, listed by Forbes magazine in April as Russia's 45th richest businessman with a fortune of $2.1 billion.

Lebedev earlier appealed to Putin for help after the Moscow offices of his National Reserve Bank were raided by armed and masked police in November in a criminal probe.

Putin said he wanted to create the All-Russia People's Front to join forces with his ruling United Russia party and offer "new ideas" in a bid to shore up his standing ahead of the December parliamentary elections.

Some observers have called the creation of the broad coalition a clear message from Putin to President Dmitry Medvedev that he wants another presidential term.

In 2008, a Russian newspaper owned by Lebedev printed a story alleging Putin was to marry former gymnast and now lawmaker Alina Kabayeva, prompting Putin to criticise journalists for poking "snotty noses" into his personal life.

The report was never confirmed and the paper, Moskovsky Korrespondent, was later closed.

© 2011 AFP

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