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Anti-Kremlin paper hits funding trouble after police raids

Russia’s main opposition newspaper expressed fears over its funding on Tuesday after security services raided the bank of its co-owner and occasional Kremlin critic Alexander Lebedev.

Novaya Gazeta said agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) had blocked the personal account of National Reserve Bank owner Lebedev used to help fund the paper amid an official investigation into the bank’s activities.

The thrice-weekly paper has remained one of Russia’s most outspoken critics of Vladimir Putin’s 12-year domination of Russia and is owned jointly by Lebedev and the Soviet Union’s last leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Lebedev’s accounts have been frozen in connection with the check,” the newspaper’s editor Sergei Sokolov told the Interfax news agency.

“This was the account he used to finance Novaya Gazeta and several charity projects.”

Gorbachev, who has given his full backing to the protest movement in Russia against Putin’s rule, said the events amounted to an attack on the freedom of the press by seeking to cut off funding to the Novaya Gazeta.

“This shows once again that for the current authorities the freedom of the press is like having a bone in the throat. But the Novaya Gazeta had endured worse, the paper is working and I am sure it will continue to work,” Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency.

Lebedev also controls The Independent and the London Evening Standard as well as other media outlets in both London and Moscow.

The tycoon denied having his account blocked by the FSB but confirmed that he was no longer able to finance the paper.

Lebedev said the personal account at the bank was now empty because constant checks into his business activities were preventing him from carrying out regular business activities.

“It is wrong to say that my account was blocked. It simply has no money,” Lebedev told Interfax.

“Money has to be earned. And when I have more than 100 inspectors inside the National Reserve Bank checking who knows what, there is little chance of earning the money needed by Novaya Gazeta.”

Lebedev has been a cautious critic of the government, refusing to attack current prime minister Putin directly while criticising widespread corruption among the Russian authorities.

Russia’s central bank said the FSB raid was a part of a broad check into the National Reserve Bank’s compliance with standard financial requirements and its possible links to the illegal money laundering activities.

It came just days after a boardroom shakeup at a Moscow radio station that provided a venue for criticising Putin ahead of his run for a third term as president in the March 4 election.