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Armed police raid bank of Russian newspaper tycoon

MOSCOW (Reuters) - At least 20 armed Russian police officers raided a Moscow bank controlled by the billionaire owner of Britain’s Independent and Evening Standard newspapers on Tuesday, his aide said.

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Tycoon and former KGB spy Alexander Lebedev was in the Moscow offices of his National Reserve Bank when police investigators arrived with an armed guard to seize documents, Lebedev aide Artyom Artyomov said.

Lebedev has ruffled feathers in the Kremlin in recent years by funding an opposition newspaper and standing against government candidates in elections, but his spokesman said he did not believe politics was behind the raid.

“This is known as a mask show in Russia: there are 20 or 30 people in masks and carrying automatic weapons,” he told Reuters by telephone.

A Reuters photographer said two masked men holding semi-automatic weapons could be seen standing by the building.

High-profile raids by heavily armed law enforcement agents in masks -- known as mask shows -- sometimes signal the onset of an attack on the business empires of Russian businessmen who have fallen out of favor with the Kremlin.

Artyomov said Lebedev was still present at the offices -- just 7 km (4 miles) from the Kremlin -- but refused to speculate on what the raid could be linked to.

“They are looking for something, but I have no idea for what,” he said. “We have absolutely no idea what is going on.”

A Moscow police spokeswoman confirmed that agents from law enforcement agencies were at the bank’s offices but gave no further details.

A former KGB spy who once worked at the Soviet embassy in London, Lebedev built a fortune by trading securities in the chaos that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Lebedev, who often sports ripped jeans and designer trainers, has raised eyebrows in Moscow over recent years by openly criticizing Russia’s paramount leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“I don’t see politics in this,” Artyomov told journalists outside the building. “It’s simply Russian idiocy.”

Lebedev is worth $2 billion and is the world’s 488th richest person, according to the latest global rich list published by Forbes magazine.

Together with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Lebedev is co-owner of the Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote until her murder in 2006.

Lebedev bought the Evening Standard in 2009 and the Independent this year. His companies also hold significant stakes in Aeroflot and Russia’s gas giant Gazprom, according to his Web site

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Conor Humphries; Editing by Peter Graff