Masked and armed police raid bank of media czar
Armed police officers yesterday swarmed into the Moscow headquarters of a bank belonging to Russian media tycoon Alexander Lebedev, who watched helplessly as they rifled through company files, his spokesman and police said.
Up to 50 masked officers raided the National Reserve Bank, jumping turnstiles to enter the offices and search for certain documents, Mr Lebedev's spokesman Artyom Artyomov said.
"What do they need this idiotic show for?" Mr Artyomov asked. "Why do they come in here with their guns and masks? If they need a file, they can come with a piece of paper and just ask," he said.
City police spokesman Viktor Biryukov confirmed the raid was part of a criminal investigation. He would not elaborate.
Mr Lebedev, who owns Britain's 'Independent' newspaper and the 'London Evening Standard', is the financial backer of a Russian opposition paper, but he is not known to be in conflict with the Kremlin.
Some view Mr Lebedev as a more liberal oligarch than those who follow the Kremlin line more closely.
He issues vague criticisms of corruption and authoritarianism in Russia from time to time, but always stops short of holding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev personally responsible, leading others to consider him a mere instrument of the Kremlin -- living proof that Russia is a business-friendly democracy.
Raiding company property and seizing computers and documents is common practice among Russia's law-enforcement agencies. In many cases, corrupt police act on behalf of rival businesses to seize ownership documents and potentially incriminating files.
"We can't tell if they are trying to acquire information on the bank or on one of its clients," Mr Artyomov said.