UK & World News

  • 24 January 2013, 4:17

Alexander Lebedev In Court Over TV Punch-Up

Newspaper tycoon Alexander Lebedev will appear in court today charged with hooliganism, after a televised punch-up with a fellow oligarch which could see him sent to a Siberian prison for up to five years.

Mr Lebedev does not deny that he punched property magnate Sergei Polonsky - knocking him off his stool - during a recording on NTV, a Kremlin-controlled TV channel in 2011.

However he claims it was self-defence, and that the case against him is politically-motivated.

As well as straightforward assault charges, Mr Lebedev is being tried for "hooliganism motivated by political hatred", under a section of the same law used to convict feminist punk band Pussy Riot last year.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.

The former KGB spy co-owns Novaya Gazeta, one of the only independent newspapers in Russia, and is a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin's administration.

Several of its reporters have been murdered in recent years, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment on President Putin's birthday in 2006.

She had reported extensively on human rights abuses during the Russian military offensive in Chechnya.

Mr Lebedev famously bought the British Evening Standard in 2009, telling reporters that he used to read it as a young Russian spy based in London in his earlier career.

He went on to buy The Independent, but says both titles are now owned by his London-based son, Evgeny Lebedev, and that they will be protected should he be sent to prison.

Preliminary hearings in the case are scheduled to begin at Moscow's Ostankinsky Court, but they will have trouble summoning Sergei Polonsky as a witness.

Mr Polonsky is currently under arrest in Cambodia, where he is accused of kidnapping local sailors aboard a boat he had hired during a holiday.

The controversial tycoon is well-known in Russia for his colourful antics, which have included eating part of his tie after losing a bet, naming both his son and his dog after his company Mirax, and firing 90% of his company over the course of one year after being told to make cutbacks.

Mr Lebedev has many powerful enemies in Russia, not least the ranks of the criminal and the corrupt, whose dealings his newspaper investigates.

He has said he is hopeful that justice will prevail, but that he is also prepared for the worst.