Boris Johnson received £7,150 in gifts while he was London mayor from media mogul Lord Evgeny Lebedev at the same time Mi6 was raising security concerns about the Russian-British dual national, it has been revealed.
Documents show Johnson received gifts like private jet flights to visit Lebedev’s Italian villa, chaffeur-driven cars and dinners in London in 2014 and 2015.
The documents were released today by The Sunday Times along with a series of other revelations about Johnson’s friendship with the owner of the Independent and Evening Standard.
Lebedev’s father Alexander Lebedev is a billionaire Russian oligarch and former KGB agent, with close links to Vladimir Putin.
The source of his wealth, estimated to be around £300m, comes from his father.
The Times claims that former Mi6 boss Sir John Sawers repeatedly refused to meet with Lebedev in 2013, despite regularly briefing other newspaper editors and proprietors on national security issues.
Sawers refused to meet with him due to concerns about his family’s standing within the Kremlin and wanted no part of the media mogul’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the British establishment.
Several former City Hall aides suggest Johnson likely knew of these concerns at the time, but continued his friendship with Lebedev.
Johnson explicitly asked for the support of The Evening Standard for some of his mayoral projects in a 2009 letter to Lebedev, with the paper going on to support him in his Tory leadership campaign nine years later.
Lebedev was known to publicly parrot Kremlin propaganda during the period of their friendship, including claiming it was UK agents and not Russian agents who fatally poisoned former KGB operative and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko in a London restaurant.
He also downplayed Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and cast Putin as a strong leader who had restored Russian national pride.
The Prime Minister awarded Lebedev a peerage in 2020, despite warnings from Mi5 and Mi6 that this would not be a good idea.
When asked about the reports today, housing secretary Michael Gove told Sky News: “I have met Lord Lebedev, in public, and nobody has ever suggested to me that that was wrong.
“He’s made clear through the pages of the Evening Standard, the newspaper of which he is a proprietor, that he wholeheartedly disapproves of this conflict. He’s been critical of Vladimir Putin’s actions.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is calling on the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac) to reveal the advice it gave on the appointment of Lebedev to the House of Lords.
When asked about the prospect of Lebedev’s peerage being taken away, Gove said: “I think one of the things that Vladimir Putin would like us to do, is to have an approach in the UK that said that everyone of Russian ancestry was somehow persona non grata.”