Russian prosecutors have launched a criminal case against the media tycoon Alexander Lebedev on charges of hooliganism for punching a fellow billionaire on a television programme.
Lebedev was being investigated for hooliganism after a preliminary investigation found that the incident “brought bodily harm” to Sergei Polonsky, the Moscow investigative committee of the general prosecutor’s office said in a statement posted on its website. If charged, Lebedev could face up to two years in prison, Russian news agencies said.
Lebedev, owner of the Independent and the London Evening Standard, punched the property developer during a chatshow on the NTV channel. Polonsky had been arguing with guests on the show when he said he was “already worn out from the desire to give [him] a punch in the chops”, gesturing to Lebedev. Lebedev jumped from his seat and threw punches at Polonsky, knocking him backwards off his chair.
After the attack Russia‘s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said the incident amounted to “hooliganism”.
Lebedev later defended his actions, while Polonsky said he would consider legal action.
Polonsky, the former owner of Mirax Group, one of Russia’s biggest property developers, posted photographs online showing a cut on his arm and a tear in his trousers after the brawl.
Lebedev learned of the case via the committee’s statement and has not been contacted by officials. He made no comment on Tuesday but published a copy of the announcement on his blog along with definitions of hooliganism. He later published a letter to the committee in which his lawyer asks for a copy of all relevant materials.
The criminal case came less than two weeks after Alexander Shokhin, the head of a powerful business lobby, asked Putin what he thought of the fight. “We have a front, but we do not attack anyone,” Putin said, referring to his political movement, the All-Russia People’s Front. “They do not have a front, but they punch each other. It’s hooliganism. Do you have an ethics committee in the RSPP [lobby]?”
Lebedev, a former KGB agent, has maintained peaceful ties with Putin despite his co-ownership of the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper and his criticism of local Moscow authorities. Last month, Lebedev sought to sue the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the KGB, for 350m roubles (£7m) in damages to his business reputation when its agents raided his bank during an investigation last year. A Moscow court later threw out the suit.