Russian tycoon to become British media magnate

Alexander Lebedev, a Russian businessman and the owner of the London Evening Standard, is reportedly in advanced talks over the purchase of the British daily The Independent and its stablemate Independent on Sunday.

Earlier this year, both parties denied claims that Lebedev, a former KGB officer, had made an offer to buy the UK national newspapers.

However, The Financial Times, citing “people familiar with the matter”, writes that the businessman has been in talks with publisher Independent News & Media over the past year. The negotiations were stalled last summer because of problems the publisher had over the restructuring of its 1.3 billion euro debt with its creditors.

Now that INM has completed the process, the talks have been resumed, the FT writes. So far, neither of the parties involved in the negotiations have commented on the report.

According to the Guardian, this time Lebedev is “serious” about the deal. "There is confidence a deal can be done soonish," the paper quotes a source as saying.

In January, the Russian banker and financier bought, for a nominal fee, London’s loss-making Evening Standard title from Daily Mail & General Trust. He became the first Russian citizen to own a leading British paper.

Since becoming the chairman, Lebedev has managed to cut the paper’s losses. In an attempt to triple the title’s circulation, he made it free of charge in October, relying completely on advertising.

Meanwhile, The Independent’s circulation has dropped by 14 per cent this year to an average of 190,000 sales. The Sunday issue of the title has dropped even more – by 15.2 per cent. Last year, the publications made losses of more than £10m. The INM implemented a series of cost-cutting measures, including a wave of job cuts.

The Independent publications are already based in the same building with Daily Mail & General Trust in the British capital.

Alexander Lebedev made his fortune through stakes in insurance and banking companies. The 50-year-old also owns 30% of Russian airline Aeroflot’s stock. Nevertheless, he is not a newcomer to the media business, being a major shareholder in the Russian publication Novaya Gazeta.