Newspaper article International New York Times

Oligarch Finds a New Vocation

Newspaper article International New York Times

Oligarch Finds a New Vocation

Article excerpt

The ex-billionaire Aleksandr Y. Lebedev's new job is as the head of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta's investigative unit, a convenient platform for his campaign against "dirty money."

In Russian terms, Aleksandr Y. Lebedev is down but not out. The boxing metaphor is particularly apt for the 53-year-old businessman whose troubles got worse in 2011 when he took a swing at a fellow guest on a Russian TV talk show, a bit of bravado that last July earned him a conviction on battery charges and a sentence of 150 hours of community service.

But at least he's not in jail, which could have happened had the original and bizarre charge of "hooliganism motivated by political hatred" stuck.

Still, Mr. Lebedev is no longer the billionaire Forbes magazine once said he was. His bank, National Reserve Bank, has been gutted. His airline, Red Wings, was sold off for a ruble. By his count, some 500 scurrilous articles about him were circulated on the Russian Internet, all part of a skilled "black P.R." campaign.

He has even openly questioned whether he can still afford to prop up his news media properties -- The Independent and The London Evening Standard in Britain, and Novaya Gazeta, the feisty twice- weekly Moscow newspaper that continues to criticize and investigate malfeasance in President Vladimir V. Putin's Russia.

Despite his woes, Mr. Lebedev has kept his elegant swagger and remains in fighting form. He still owns what he says is the largest potato farm in Europe, near the legendary estate of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy in the region of Tula, where he will serve out his sentence, repairing kindergartens.

But he is less interested in spuds than in his new job -- the head of Novaya Gazeta's investigative unit, a convenient platform for his campaign against "dirty money," some $25 trillion in illicit profits now washing, unchecked and untaxed, through the global financial system.

Of this figure (provided by the Tax Justice Network, an independent group), some $700 billion has been taken illegally out of Russia over the last 10 years. Among those who have profited from embezzlement, fraud and outright theft are those whom Mr. …

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