Unfinished business: Russian billionaire sells Aeroflot shares, eyes rival bank

Unfinished business: Russian billionaire sells Aeroflot shares, eyes rival bank

Aleksandr Lebedev, an outspoken Kremlin critic and media mogul with assets in Russia and Britain, plans to unload his remaining 4.5 percent stake in Russia’s national airline, Aeroflot, a Russian news source quoted the billionaire as saying.

After a brush with the law and an increase in his UK media holdings, it may appear Lebedev is jettisoning his Russian assets, but the former KGB-man-turned-oligarch may be putting his eggs in another basket, according to Isvestia news, who Thursday reported Lebedev plans to acquire a 2.1 percent stake in Pushkino Bank, for a nominal fee. 

“By the end of June, I can become a shareholder of the bank,” Lebedev is quoted by Izvestia

Lebedev is picking up a minority share in order to gain influence in the bank's affairs, which would grant him the ability to challenge shareholder decisions. 

“As a minority shareholder I will be able to file complaints to the regulatory authorities, and be able to request inspections for any illegal asset withdrawals,” said Lebedev. 

A large portion of the bank is owned by Aleksandr Dobrovinsky, who said he is willing to sell the entire credit institution to Lebedev for nearly million (3.2 billion roubles). 

According to the National Rating Agency (NRA), on May 1, 2013, Pushkino ranks 158th out of Russia’s top 200 banks. 

“I would gladly sell it to him tomorrow for assets,” said Dobrovinsky, who is also the lawyer representing developer Sergey Polonsky with whom Lebedev got involved in a fist fight on live television in 2011.

Lebedev is currently on trial for the on-air brawl, and faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted on the charges of hooliganism and battery. He views the charges as ‘motivated by political hatred’ in an attempt to smear his name and sink his billions in assets. 

Polonsky, was arrested in Cambodia while on vacation for holding six sailors hostage and physical violence last January. 

Lebedev fell from Forbes billionaire list this year, after he graced the chart with a .1 billion fortune in 2012. 

Unfinished business

It doesn’t seem like Lebedev is quite finished with his Russian business

On 5 November 2012, he announced he would close all the regional offices of the National Reserve Bank and sell off the real estate as well as 75 percent of the bank's loan portfolio, worth 16.8bn roubles (2m). 

The main source of his wealth, Lebedev has owned the bank since 1995, which was one of few to survive the 1998 financial crisis. 

Shedding his Aeroflot stakes may appear to be the 53-year-old oligarch’s final severance with Russia after getting rid of the National Reserve Bank and other Russian assets.

Lebedev’s current share of Aeroflot is worth million (2.5 billion roubles). He once owned 25.8 percent in Aeroflot, and over the years has decreased his stake, selling shares back to the state. In February 2012 he was nominated to the board of Aeroflot by his bank. The bank also nominated anti-corruption blogger Alexey Nalvalny, who was elected to the board in June 2012. 

In February 2013, Lebedev ironically tweeted his grandson, then 15-months old, should be appointed to Aeroflot’s advisory board, drawing comparisons between the decision making ability of his grandson and the board. 

In 2009 he began to purchase UK media outlets, and on January 21, his company Evening Press Corporation acquired a 75.1 percent share of the Evening Standard newspaper for £1.00. A year later, Lebedev bought The Independent and Independent on Sunday for the same nominal price.

“I just want to work as a journalist," he told The Guardian earlier this month after appearing in Moscow court on hooliganism charges.

Lebedev, the journalist 

A Moscow native and son of Russian intelligentsia, Lebedev’s business empire is vast and includes parts of Gazprom, spas in Crimea, Europe’s largest potato farm, hotels in Italy, and previously mentioned British news outlets. 

His son, Evgeny, lives in London and runs the family's British newspaper titles. Lebedev generously gives to charities dedicated to restoring and commemorating Soviet monuments and heroes abroad. 

In tandem with former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, Lebedev owns 49 percent of Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta which often runs ‘exposes’ on political and financial corruption. Newspaper staff controls the remaining 51 percent of the shares. 

Lebedev had an unsuccessful mayoral bid for Moscow in 2003, only garnering 13 percent of the vote. He was a member of the State Duma until 2007. 

The Russian government may sell Aeroflot shares this year as part of a plan to raise 427 billion roubles (.5 billion) through state asset sales to help balance the budget and reduce its role in the economy. The government is also selling off VTB and Rosneft shares.