Brawling Russian Billionaire Gets to Go to Disneyland

MOSCOW, May 31 (RIA Novosti/RAPSI) – Russian media magnate Alexander Lebedev, on trial for punching a flamboyant businessman during a TV talk show, has been allowed to leave the country for a trip that includes Disneyland in Paris.

Lebedev, who owns the UK’s The Independent daily and co-owns Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was granted permission by a Moscow court on Friday to temporarily leave Russia to attend charity events in Zambia and Ukraine, as well as a High Court session in London.

The 52-year-old billionaire, who in Moscow faces a charge of infliction of minor bodily harm but was initially charged with battery and hooliganism, said he would also take his children to Disneyland because “they earned it for not acting like hooligans.”

Lebedev, a former KGB officer turned Kremlin critic, apparently punched a seated Sergei Polonsky, knocking him out of his chair, during the filming of a talk show for state-run channel NTV in 2011.

Polonsky, the former head of the Mirax Group construction firm, had accused Lebedev of spreading a rumor about a crack in the Moskva-City skyscraper his firm was building.

The initial charges came more than a year later, and the trial started earlier this month. Lebedev’s supporters have denounced the trial as “political payback” from the Kremlin for the billionaire’s opposition activity, including fund-raising for anti-corruption lawyer Alexei Navalny. If convicted, Lebedev faces up to five years behind bars.

Lebedev has claimed he had to “neutralize” Polonsky because he feared he was going to be hit first, and that Polonsky had been overly aggressive during the discussion. “In a critical situation, there is no choice. I see no reason to be hit with the first shot. I neutralized him,” he wrote in his blog.

Moscow’s Ostankinsky District Court had allowed Lebedev to remain free during the trial on condition that he would not leave the country. The judge had warned Lebedev that he would face a more severe punishment if he violated that condition. The trial’s next session is scheduled for June 21.

In early January, Polonsky himself ended up at the center of a dispute in Cambodia, after he and two other Russians allegedly attacked local sailors during an outing off the Cambodian coast. The sailors later dropped the charges.

Polonsky was released from a Cambodian jail in early April but was restricted from leaving the country.


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