Newspaper owner's bank raided by Russian police
The Guardian, Luke Harding
Armed police have completed a raid of the Moscow bank belonging to the Independent and Evening Standard owner, Alexander Lebedev.
Up to 30 detectives and masked police officers arrived unannounced at his National Reserve Corporation bank in central Moscow this morning and began a search. Lebedev was in the bank at the time of the raid.
Some of the police officers were seen to leave the building in a blue minibus at around 1.30pm local time (10.30am UK time). Novaya Gazeta, the Russian opposition newspaper co-owned by Lebedev, later reported that all members of the team from the investigative directorate of Moscow police had departed, taking documents with them.
Lebedev and his spokesman, Artyom Artyomov, did not answer phone calls this afternoon but earlier in the day Artyomov said his boss was "holding negotiations" with Russian police.
At the scene, two men with black masks and short, automatic weapons stood guard outside the main entrance. About 20 Russian journalists were waiting outside, filming the unfolding drama from across the car park. Several black Mercedes and Audi cars were parked in front of the bank, an 11-storey modern building with green tinted windows.
Artyomov said police searched the bank's headquarters and its second branch in Moscow. "They are confiscating documents in both places," he confirmed. The aide said Lebedev was unhappy about the ostentatious nature of the raid, and the use of masked men carrying serious guns. "What really upsets us is this 'masky' show. We thought that things like this were a thing of the past. Armed policemen just burst into the building."
The aide said that the Independent and Evening Standard owner was "very surprised" at the search, and was still inside. "He doesn't understand why there is a need to create such a circus. We don't know yet what they want from us."
The raid came after Novaya Gazeta published a four-page interview with the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The newspaper reported that investigators involved in the search at Lebedev's offices had been looking for documents relating to another bank, Rossiyskiy Kapital, which his bank helped bail out in 2008.
Artyomov initially said that he feared Lebedev "may be arrested" but later clarified that the Russian billionaire had not been arrested and was holding talks with police. "He isn't arrested. They [the police] have something they want to do in our bank," he told the Guardian.
He said that the raid took place after Lebedev went to work. The bank - founded by Lebedev in the early 1990s - is the most important part of his business empire and provides much of the money with which he funds his British media titles.
Artyomov said that Lebedev's only enemy in Russia was Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow's former mayor who was dramatically sacked last month. Lebedev had been an outspoken critic and ran against him unsuccessfully in Moscow's 2003 mayoral elections. Luzhkov, however, has his own problems after falling out with the Kremlin and is unlikely to be behind the police raid.
Russia's news agency Interfax also reported today's dramatic raid. "Several armed men wearing masks have entered the building at 10A on 60 Let Oktyabrya Avenue in south-west Moscow, where the Rusnano corporation and the National Reserve Bank are headquartered. There is one entrance in the building and we do not know yet what this action is about," Artyomov told Interfax.
Law enforcement services have not been available for comment and official confirmation of this report has not yet been obtained, the news agency said.
Moscow police later confirmed that a search was taking place but refused to say what it was connected with.
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