Alexander Lebedev charged with hooliganism and battery in Russia

The 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 Evening Standard and the Independent, said the charges were a means of pressuring the tycoon into fleeing the country and ceasing his opposition activities. Lebedev has increasingly insisted that his anti-corruption crusade has begun to irk the Russian authorities.

If found guilty, Lebedev could face up to five years in prison.

The charges come more than a year after Lebedev punched the 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 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 the former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, of Novaya Gazeta, Russia‘s leading opposition and investigative newspaper. He has also come out in support of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Lebedev’s National Reserve Bank set up a debit card that will see a portion of customers’ expenditure donated to Navalny’s anti-corruption project RosPil.

Lebedev told the Guardian 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”.

Artem Artemev, an assistant to Lebedev, said the tycoon had been charged with “hooliganism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or enmity”.

“He is being targeted by people who don’t like his stance against corruption, and hate Novaya [Gazeta],” the younger Lebedev wrote on Twitter. “I don’t condone violence, but the punishment does not fit the crime here. We need more Russians to speak out against injustice, not fewer. I hope this isn’t the start of a new crackdown.”

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