MOSCOW, February 22 (RIA Novosti) – Defense lawyers for billionaire businessman and Kremlin critic Alexander Lebedev, who is facing trial on public disorder and battery charges, have challenged the travel restrictions imposed on him, the RAPSI legal news agency reported on Friday.
The charges relate to Lebedev’s involvement in a televized brawl with property developer Sergei Polonsky.
The initial charges of hooliganism and battery came last September, over a year after Lebedev punched Polonsky during the recording of a television program for the state-run channel NTV.
The TV show turned into a scuffle after Polonsky accused Lebedev of spreading a rumor about a crack in the Moskva-City skyscraper his firm was building.
Lebedev, a former KGB officer, 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.
In January 2013 a new charge “infliction of minor bodily harm” was brought against him. If convicted, Lebedev faces up to five years in jail.
He has been ordered not to leave Russia, and will be put into custody if he breaks the order. His trial is likely to take place in the “next few weeks,” his spokesman told Bloomberg in January.
Lebedev said in December he had to travel abroad for 10 days for medical treatment and to attend to his properties outside Russia.
Lebedev, 52, is co-owner of the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper and owner of the UK’s The Independent daily. He has also supported a scheme to raise funds for opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption project RosPil. He has made repeated claims of a campaign of persecution against his businesses in Russia by the government, a charge the authorities deny.
In early January, Polonsky himself ended up in another fracas in Cambodia, when he and two other Russians allegedly attacked local sailors during an outing late last month off the Cambodian coast. The sailors later dropped their charges.
The three men were arrested on December 31 and remain in Cambodian police custody. They face up to three years in prison if convicted. All have denied their guilt.