WORLD NEWS TOMORROW – MOSCOW Aleksandr Y. Lebedev, a prominent banker and newspaper magnate who has supported the political opposition, announced on Friday that police and regulatory checks had become so intense that he would sell all of his Russia-based assets.
“The special services steamrolled my businesses into the pavement,” Mr. Lebedev told the Interfax news agency. “I give up.”
If he indeed divests himself of Russian assets — he said it might be difficult to find buyers, given the controversy — Mr. Lebedev will be joining a dozen or so other post-Soviet billionaires who lost fortunes or at least moved them out of Russia after public disputes with President Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Lebedev had for years gotten away with tweaking the president in public, with humor and sponsorship of a dissident newspaper, perhaps because he is, like Mr. Putin, a veteran of the Soviet K.G.B. with deep roots of his own in the Moscow political elite.
In one of several interviews with Russian and foreign media outlets in which he made the announcement on Friday, Mr. Lebedev, 52, said he would reduce his exposure to Russian investments to “zero.” Forbes magazine reported his net worth at $1.1 billion, though not all of it was invested in Russia.
Harassment of his businesses is not new. His bank has repeatedly been targeted in a type of ritual police raid on a business — known as a masky show, for the masks worn by the police — something the debonair financier had joked about in the past.
On Friday, he said the police had been telling him that they have “some order from above” to investigate his businesses and encourage him to leave the country, while asking him about his political views.
“They worked on my personal life, my business partners and my political convictions,” he said. “I’ll admit: they won. It’s impossible to conduct business, as they are everywhere.”
Mr. Lebedev is the owner, together with the former Soviet president, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where the investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya worked until her murder in 2006. More recently, in February, he nominated the anticorruption activist and blogger Aleksei Navalny to the board of Aeroflot, the national airline, in which Mr. Lebedev has a stake. The move was a clear thumbing of his nose at government efforts to sideline Mr. Navalny.
Mr. Lebedev served as a lieutenant colonel in the K.G.B. and was posted in Britain when the Soviet Union fell, a background seemingly at odds with financing a dissident newspaper and his jesterlike role in Moscow.
In a 2007 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Lebedev said the foreign intelligence officers of the K.G.B. in the late Soviet period, including himself, generally formed a pro-reform faction in the Soviet establishment, owing to their firsthand knowledge of the gap with the West, and even propped up Mr. Gorbachev against hard-liners. Commentators have suggested that Mr. Lebedev’s K.G.B. past protected him, and the financial flows to Novaya Gazeta, even as Mr. Putin targeted other wealthy Russians.
Besides the share in Aeroflot, Mr. Lebedev has stakes in a development company, farms and a budget airline, called Red Wings, and two British newspapers, The Independent and The Evening Standard.