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M16 warned PM about Russian oligarch friend Evgeny Lebedev two years ago

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According to a report in the Sunday Times, the head of M16 held security concerns over the Russian oligarch – who has previously defended Vladimir Putin and expressed doubt over the murder of a Kremlin critic in London – as long as a decade ago.

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer expressed alarm over the article’s allegations and said he had written to the House of Lords Appointment Commission chair Lord Brew to raise concerns over the Prime Minister’s decision to grant Lord Lebedev a peerage.

In a statement to the PA news agency, the Labour leader questioned the judgement of Mr Johnson for nominating to the House of Lords “someone who has promoted the worst conspiracy theories and defences of Vladimir Putin”.

Media mogul Lord Evgeny Lebedev has previously defended Vladimir Putin and raised questions over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko (PA) / PA Wire

Sir Keir, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, accused the Prime Minister of disregarding the security service’s “serious reservations” about Lord Lebedev.

He added: “My thoughts in particular are with (the widow of poisoned Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko) Marina Litvinenko who knows first-hand the evils of Putin.

“Rather than stand in solidarity with her, the PM has forced her to witness him giving a peerage to someone who suggested her husband could have been murdered by MI6.”

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Russia was responsible for the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. The former Russian spy died after being poisoned with a rare radioactive substance in London in 2006 (PA) / PA Media

Earlier this week Mr Johnson denied intervening to override security concerns about the peerage granted to Lord Lebedev, telling reporters: “That is simply incorrect… It suits Putin’s agenda to try to characterise this as a struggle between the West and Russia.”

Lord Lebedev, who owns British newspapers The Independent and the Evening Standard, has also dismissed allegations that he is an “agent of Russia”  over claims a security services assessment saying the media mogul posed a national security risk was withdrawn after Mr Johnson intervened.

In response to allegations which surfaced last week that he had been identified as a national security risk before the PM had the assessment withdrawn, he acknowledged that his father had been a KGB officer but it was “a long time ago”.

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