Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev could become a powerful media baron in the UK if he is able to acquire the Independent and Independent on Sunday to his single-newspaper portfolio in the UK that comprises the London Evening Standard, apart from a 49-per cent stake in Novaya Gazeta in Russia that he owns alonjg with former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev.
The Russian billionaire is reportedly in advanced talks with the Independent News & Media (INM), owners of the Independent and Independent on Sunday , with managing director of the Independent titles, Simon Kelner, managing the talks with Lebedev.
Dublin-based but headquartered in West London, The Independent News & Media had set a 30 September deadline for disposing of up to €150 million worth of assets as it has to pay a £171 million bond, which has been rescheduled and expires on 26 June.
At its annual meeting yesterday, INM said that it is cutting its operating profit forecast for 2009 to between £154 million and £171 million.
Lebedev, who acquired a majority interest in the Evening Standard newspaper for a nominal sum from Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) in which the DMGT has retained a minority stake of 24.9 per cent, (See: Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev buys London's Evening Standard newspaper) denied having made any formal offer while INM said the talks have been about "operating synergies."
But according to media reports, the negotiations have moved so far forward that discussions have taken place even on a new management structure for a combined entity.
Denis O'Brien, who holds a 26-per cent stake in IN&M, had said earlier that the media group should think of selling its titles as both of them were making loses.
Since the Evening Standard and the IN&M are both making losses but located in the same building, the joint synergies could result in substantial cost savings for Lebedev if he is able to acquire the INM titles.
Lebedev, 49, is part owner of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, one of the few Russian media outlets critical of the Kremlin, and is part owner of Russia's Aeroflot airline. He was ranked by Forbes magazine last year as the world's 358th richest man, worth more than $3 billion, although his fortune has been hit hard by the global economic downturn.
He is part of a wave of Russians who have snapped up UK assets in the past few years, along with Roman Abramovich, who bought London's Chelsea Football Club in 2003, Alisher Usmanov is the largest investor in the Arsenal Football Club and Nikolai Smolensky owns British sports-car maker TVR Engineering Ltd.