When Boris Johnson was hauled before the Commons Liaison Committee last month, he sensationally admitted that during his period as foreign secretary, he met the former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev at his Tuscan villa without officials present.
Johnson described him then as “the gentleman… who used to be the proprietor of the London Evening Standard.” Yet I can disclose that Lebedev senior is still actively involved in running the newspaper – indeed, he has sounded out several parties, all involved in the property business, about acquiring the ailing London freesheet.
One of those approached tells me: “The Standard is struggling and obviously it has been harder for Alexander since the Russian invasion of Ukraine to secure banking facilities. It is an asset that Alexander now wants to jettison. Things appear to have come to a head with Lord Rothermere’s decision to relocate his own newspaper headquarters – where the Standard is currently based – and that will involve the Standard having to find a new home, which will involve them in considerable expense. There’s some talk of them heading off to a cheaper billet in King’s Cross, but let’s see.”
My source tells me that the name of the Standard’s supposed proprietor, Evgeny – now Lord – Lebedev did not figure in the conversation with his father. They added: “The Standard is a great newspaper with a great history, but it appears to have got itself into a dance of death with Lebedev. Unless an owner with extremely deep pockets comes forward pretty quickly, I wouldn’t bet on it making it to Christmas.”