A Russian media baron at the centre of a row over a ‘suppressed’ secret intelligence report today breaks his silence to dismiss claims he gathered damaging information on Boris Johnson during a celebrity-packed party.
Evgeny Lebedev, owner of London’s Evening Standard newspaper, blames an ‘ugly strain of Russophobia’ for allegations that he obtained ‘Kompromat’ – compromising material used for blackmail – during a visit by Mr Johnson to the Russian’s luxurious villa in Umbria, Italy.
The party, where guests included actress Joan Collins, pop star Pixie Lott and glamour model Katie Price, is understood to have been mentioned to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) when it was gathering evidence for a report on the extent of Russian penetration into the British Establishment.
Evgeny Lebedev, pictured centre along with future prime minister Boris Johnson, left, and his sister Rachel JOhnson, right at the Evening Standard's 1,000 Most Influential Londoners party at Burberry, Regent Street on November 7, 2012
Mr Johnson has been criticised for blocking the report’s publication until after the Election on the grounds that the Government needs more time to censor sensitive information. Committee chairman Dominic Grieve says he fears the findings will never see the light of day.
The shelving of the publication has led to increasingly sensationalist claims on the internet, including about Mr Lebedev’s party.
The issue was seized upon by Labour, with Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry making political capital out of the ‘utterly unjustifiable’ delay and questioning the relationships fostered by Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, during the three years he spent in Russia in the 1990s. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab objected to the insinuation that No 10 was ‘in the grip of a Kremlin mole’.
Mr Lebedev, 39, moved to London aged eight to be with his father, Alexander, who had diplomatic cover for his KGB work, and has remained in the UK ever since. In 2009, the pair joined forces to buy a 65 per cent share in the Evening Standard. A year later, Evgeny Lebedev also bought The Independent and launched the i newspaper. The media baron, who campaigns on conservation issues, once owned a pet wolf, which he called Boris.
Evgeny Lebedev, left, arrived in Britain aged eight to be with his father, Alexander, right, who had diplomatic cover for his KGB work, and has remained in the UK ever since
Mr Lebedev writes in today’s Mail on Sunday that he was amazed to read that he was ‘a possible spy’, and by the presumption that Russians living in UK constitute a ‘fifth column’.
He says: ‘Various papers produced Stalinist lists of “enemies of the people”; influential Russians in the UK who, it is implied, advance the Kremlin’s agenda. I have never met Vladimir Putin. I have never given a penny to a political party. I made the list because of a party I held with friends at my house in Italy… I am proud to be a friend of Boris Johnson, who like most of my friends has visited me in Umbria. And I hate to disappoint, but nothing happens there that produces “Kompromat”.’ Referring to the ISC report, Mr Lebedev writes: ‘The Government has not released this Russian interference report, meaning I am in the Kafkaesque situation of being accused in public and possibly libelled in newspapers based on illegal leaks, without the right to know what I am accused of, or the right of reply.’
BY HARRY COLE
An American businessman who employed Dominic Cummings in Russia in the 1990s has scotched wild claims that the Downing Street aide was recruited as a Russian spy, saying his fondness for vodka made him a very unlikely target.
Boris Johnson’s right-hand man spent three years in Russia from 1994 to 1997 working for Adam Dixon, a US entrepreneur who was attempting to build an airline in the post-Soviet state.
Earlier this month, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry wrote a bizarre letter to the Government demanding Mr Cummings’s time in Russia be investigated as someone had told her of their ‘serious concerns’ that he was a spy.
Mr Dixon laughed off the idea, branding it ‘very strange’. He said: ‘You would have had to be very perceptive back then to have spotted Dominic as a great talent. I was fond of him at that time. I was much more worried that he was going to be a train wreck.’
He told The Times that Mr Cummings was ‘an ardent student’ of the Communist revolution, and was prone to swigging vodka from the bottle, adding: ‘There were a lot of young people like Dominic who were fascinated by what was going on [in Russia at the time] and as a result were there. He was sort of panhandling for a job and that’s why he ended up with me. It didn’t go very well.’
Mr Dixon said it was extremely unlikely anyone in Russia would have thought to target Mr Cummings as a future asset due to the pro-Western policies pursued at the time by President Boris Yeltsin and the widespread disruption after the collapse of the USSR.
Mr Dixon said: ‘He definitely drank too much and was obstinate and could be self-defeating and harmful to getting a business going properly. If somebody had spotted him then as a talent that was inevitably going to work its way to the top, I would have been very surprised.
‘He is too much of a patriot/chauvinist and too independent to be a mere spy. Even back then Dominic was very consistent that the UK should have absolute independence.’
He adds: ‘Trial behind closed doors is the justice of a banana republic. This isn’t the country Britain is supposed to be. Where people are judged on their origins rather than their contributions to society or on their accent rather than what they say. Don’t judge me because I’m