Pressure Mounts on Alexander Lebedev

Remember back when Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev criticized the government and founded an opposition party?  Seems like that may now cost him his stake in Aeroflot, as the state banks selectively withhold a bailout.  The Financial Times is pushing the rumor:

An outspoken Kremlin critic could face the loss of a 25 per cent stake in Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, if his bank is refused a bail-out loan by the Russian state.

Aleksander Lebedev, chairman of Russia’s National Reserve Bank, confirmed yesterday that he was in talks with VEB, the Russian state bank, for a $130m loan to stave off a margin call on a stake of about 25 per cent of Russia’s national airline, which fell due last night.

“We’ve been trying, but I’m not sure if we’ve been successful, because the procedure is not very clear,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “But we haven’t been told no.” (…)

Compared with thesebail-outs, the $130m loan requested by NRB is minimal, but Mr Lebedevis also known for public criticism of the government and his pastoutspokenness may be complicating his negotiations with VEB.

Inparticular, Mr Lebedev owns Novaya Gazeta, one of the last in adwindling number of newspapers that are harshly critical of the Kremlin.

He declined to say whether politics could be getting in the way of negotiations over the state loan. “How do I know?” he said.

Ifthe Aeroflot stake is liquidated, it would potentially have a number ofeager buyers. Russian Technologies, a state company run by SergeiChemezov, a close ally of prime minister Vladimir Putin, has beensteadily moving ahead with plans to consolidate Russia’s airline sectorby helping to create Russian Airlines, a competing national carrier.