updated 1/15/2009 12:54:19 PM ET 2009-01-15T17:54:19

Russian billionaire and former KGB spy Alexander Lebedev is trying to buy London's Evening Standard newspaper, British media outlets reported Thursday.

The Guardian newspaper said Lebedev, 49, would take a controlling 76-percent stake in the afternoon paper. The BBC said he had made an offer.

The Evening Standard's owner, Daily Mail and General Trust, declined to comment Thursday.

Lebedev could not immediately be reached for comment. He was quoted in The Guardian as saying that if he became owner he would not interfere with the paper's editorial line.

Lebedev, part owner of Russia's Aeroflot airline, 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.

Potentially contentious
His takeover of the newspaper would be contentious because Lebedev is a former Russian intelligence agent.

He also is part owner of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, one of the few media outlets critical of the Russian government.

The Evening Standard — Britain's only paid-for daily aimed solely at the London market — takes a right-of-center editorial line similar to its national sister paper, The Daily Mail.

'Next to zero' influence
The Guardian quoted Lebedev as saying that his editorial influence would be "next to zero" if he owned the Standard.

The newspaper is reported to lose millions of dollars a year, and Lebedev told the Guardian he was not trying to buy it to make a profit.

"As far as I'm concerned this has nothing to do with making money," he was quoted as saying. "There are lots of other ways. This is a good way to waste money."

More on London   |  KGB

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