Who wants to be a billionaire? Not, apparently, Alexander Lebedev, the self-described ‘Russian ex-oligarch’ who has tried billionaredom and found it not to his liking. Lebedev opens his new book, Hunt the Banker, with a nostalgic riff on his happy youth in a tiny Moscow apartment and the observation that ‘the ideal menu consists of buckwheat (60 cents a kilo), extra virgin flaxseed oil, vegetables and a little fish’. Money, he reckons, ‘warms only a shallow soul. It shrivels the heart, gives no peace, and problems proliferate’.
Why, then, did Lebedev leave a comfortable post as a KGB spy in London to pursue a career in banking in post-Soviet Russia? ‘A desire to accumulate experience and know the system from the inside,’ he says — the same reason, apparently, that drove him to become a Duma deputy, run for mayor of Sochi and Moscow, and later become a British media mogul via his co-ownership with son Evgeny of the Independent and the Evening Standard.