Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB agent who’s now one of Russia’s richest individuals — he owns stakes in companies including airline Aeroflot, Russia’s National Reserve Bank and Gazprom — is changing the face of London’s media landscape. Last year, Lebedev took a controlling stake in the then loss-making Evening Standard newspaper for a nominal 1 pound, or $1.62. Since then, he’s installed former Tatler editor Geordie Greig as the paper’s new editor in chief and taken the decision to abolish the daily paper’s 80 cent cover charge and rebrand it as a free newspaper to increase its circulation. For December, it recorded a circulation of 608,533. Shortly after that move, London Lite, a free evening newspaper published by Daily Mail & General Trust — which itself holds a minority stake in the Evening Standard, bowed out of the competition and closed. Now, Lebedev is in exclusive, ongoing talks to buy British newspapers The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, both of which are struggling with dwindling circulation. There’s been much speculation in the British press about Lebedev’s plans for the titles, including that he plans to hire controversial columnist Rod Liddle as editor. Meanwhile, Lebedev is also cutting as much of a swathe on London’s social scene — his annual gala to raise funds for the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, which he hosts with his son Evgeny Lebedev, has become a fixture of London’s summer social whirl. Held at Lebedev’s home Stud House, in the grounds of Hampton Court, the event has played hosts to guests including Mikhail Gorbachev and his family to J.K. Rowling, Joan Collins and Stella McCartney.

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