Alexander Lebedev says he is ready to face punch victim in London court

Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev says he is ready to face property tycoon Sergei Polonsky in a London court after punching him on Russian television.

Lebedev, owner of the Independent and Evening Standard, told the Guardian that Polonsky had provoked him for several hours before and during the taping of a talkshow on NTV in September, which ended with the former punching the latter out of his chair.

When asked what prompted the punch, Lebedev said: “You remember the Zidane case?”

French football player Zinedine Zidane was famously sent off in the final minutes of the 2006 World Cup for head-butting Marco Materazzi after the Italian defender allegedly insulted his sister. Lebedev declined to repeat what Polonsky said.

He said Polonsky’s London lawyers had sent a letter to the Evening Standard two weeks ago demanding an apology and threatening a lawsuit if he failed to comply. Lebedev said the letter was sent back, as he does not keep an office at the newspaper’s London headquarters.

Yet he said he was ready to accept the writ. “If they want to send me a writ, they can,” Lebedev said. “I’ll pick it up. I’m not going to be like Abramovich.”

The owner of Chelsea football club, Roman Abramovich, who is embroiled in a court battle in London with fallen oligarch Boris Berezovsky, managed to avoid accepting his writ for months until the two spotted each other at neighbouring shops in Knightsbridge in 2007.

Polonsky is hoping to sue Lebedev for libel and is seeking damages for defamation, his lawyer Andrew Stephenson has said. Polonsky’s spokeswoman could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Lebedev punched Polonsky during a heated early recording of NTVshniki. A video clip of the exchange quickly went viral. Lebedev has continued to defend his actions.

On 4 October, Russian prosecutors said they had opened a criminal case against him after an initial investigation found that the incident “brought bodily harm” to Polonsky. Lebedev could be charged with hooliganism.

“There’s no point in being worried about it,” Lebedev said, adding that the case was being approached “in a polite way”. He said he would face questioning on 16 November.

Lebedev said he believed the case would not go forward unless it received high-level approval.

The case was opened after Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, publicly commented on the incident and said it amounted to “hooliganism”.

Lebedev has managed to remain in the leadership’s good graces despite his co-ownership of opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

He also said the newspaper had plans to expand its advisory board from 15 to roughly 50 members. Among those who are due to be invited to take part is Mikhail Prokhorov, the oligarch who fell out with the Russian leadership in September after seeking to exercise independence while head of the pro-Kremlin liberal Right Cause party. He was promptly dismissed as party chief and subsequently kicked off President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernisation commission.

Last week, Prokhorov, who co-owns precious metals firm Polyus Gold was forced to delay a London listing after it failed to receive final necessary approval from a Putin-led foreign investment commission.

“I will definitely send an invite to Prokhorov,” Lebedev said, a decision that is sure to irritate the Kremlin.

Prokhorov is rumoured to be looking to buy three leading examples of Russia‘s new young opposition media – the television channel Dozhd, the website Slon and the free weekly journal Bolshoi Gorod.

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