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A Tortoise File

Lebedev: Lord of Siberia

Door after door in Britain has been opened for Evgeny Lebedev, all the way to the House of Lords. Who has opened them, and why?

Lebedev: Lord of Siberia

First published
Monday 28 February 2022

Last updated
Monday 28 February 2022

Why this story?

Warnings about the flood of Russian money into London have been ringing in our ears for years but too often they’ve been written off as scaremongering. What if all that cash managed to bend British democracy to its will? What if we got so dependent on the money that it became difficult to stand up to Russian aggression? The majority view of both risks was that they were shroud-waving – until this week, of course, when the second of them was made dramatically real. 

But it was the first question which prompted our investigation this week. In theory, it’s not possible to barter your way to a seat in the upper house of Britain’s parliament. In practice, things are a little more complicated. As we found when we followed the long journey of Evgeny Lebedev from Russian-born son of a KGB agent to a seat in the upper house of Britain’s parliament. 

After a party to launch him into British society in 2006, the 14 years it took Evgeny to become first a British citizen and then Lord Lebedev were sprinkled with moments of high farce and happy accidents, but they also included more traditional strategic moves by a man seeking influence; he didn’t make political donations but he did buy newspapers, the Evening Standard and the Independent. 

So it was the porousness of British democracy we set out to investigate when Paul Caruana Galizia started to make inquiries about exactly how Evgeny Lebedev had become a peer of the realm. But then Londongrad entered the frame via Ukraine and our initial questions became more urgent.  

It’s a story, in part, about the easy seduction of the British establishment by huge wealth. Along the way it reveals a gap in accountability which allows too much to happen out of sight. The House of Lords Appointment Commission which reviewed the offer of a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev took advice from the intelligence services and advised Boris Johnson not to proceed. The prime minister ignored the Commission’s advice, and neither parliament nor the Cabinet Office is willing to publish it. With a seat in parliament at stake, that surely cannot be right. Ceri Thomas, Editor