What does a Moscow billionaire take on vacation?
- By Julia IoffeJulia Ioffe is Foreign Policy's Moscow correspondent.
When I texted Alexander Lebedev — the KGB spook turned banker and media mogul — explaining the conceit of this feature, he wrote back: “I don’t have anything, not even money.” The billionaire (estimated assets, according to Forbes: $2.1 billion) added a smiley face. We met in his two-story, taupe-colored Moscow mansion, with its plush leather chairs and a dozen scurrying assistants. “Yesterday I checked my bank account,” Lebedev said with a smirk. “I had 61 million rubles.” That’s $2 million. So where’s the rest? “All my assets are in potatoes,” he joked, referring to his National Land Company, Russia’s largest potato producer. What he meant is that his money is tied up in “productive assets”: a fifth of the airline Aeroflot, shares in natural gas giant Gazprom, a Crimean hotel complex, and a slew of British and Russian newspapers, including the Independent. “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t take my money out,” he told me. Lebedev’s reluctance to open his pockets goes beyond his bank account. “I don’t like any objects,” he insisted, standing in front of a model airplane and a set of Chinese ivory blocks. “Ideally, I would move around the world totally empty.”
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| Passport |