Billionaire Lebedev charged over attack on fellow TV guest

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2012, 11:02am


Billionaire Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev has been charged with hooliganism and battery for punching a fellow tycoon on television last year.

A lawyer for Lebedev, who owns the London-based Evening Standard and Independent newspapers, said the charges were a means of pressuring the tycoon into fleeing the country and ceasing his opposition activities.

Lebedev has insisted that his anti-corruption crusade has begun to irk the Russian authorities. If found guilty, he could face up to five years in prison.

The charges come more than one year after Lebedev punched property developer Sergei Polonsky during the taping of a television programme for the state-run television channel NTV.

During a heated discussion on the financial crisis, Lebedev rushed out of his chair and flew at Polonsky, knocking him to the ground. Lebedev has insisted that he was provoked.

His lawyer, Henry Reznik, said the charges were "invented". "It may have been done to scare him, to make him leave the country,"he said. "Secondly, it's moral pressure to stop his social-political activity."

Lebedev is part owner, alongside former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, of Novaya Gazeta, Russia's leading opposition and investigative newspaper.

He has also come out in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Lebedev's National Reserve Bank set up a debit card that will see a portion of customers' expenditures donated to Navalny's anti-corruption project RosPil.

Lebedev said last month that he planned to cease his business activities in Russia because of unprecedented pressure from the security services.

His son, Evgeny Lebedev, likened the case against his father to Pussy Riot, the anti-Kremlin punk collective that has seen three of its members jailed for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".