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Russian tycoon Lebedev faces criminal charges over TV brawl

Aleksandr Lebedev, Russian billionaire and co-owner of independent daily Novaya Gazeta, has been charged with hooliganism after he punched another guest on a Russian television talk show last year. If convicted, he may face up to five years in jail.

In September 2011, a heated debate on NTV finished with Lebedev landing a left hook on fellow billionaire Sergey Polonsky. After several rounds, Polonsky fell off his chair, his jeans tearing, and security guards were called in. Originally, the case against Lebedev, who owns The Independent and London Evening Standard, was opened only on hooliganism accusations. But Wednesday, the 52-year-old tycoon was notified that he has officially become a defendant in a criminal case, which also involves the charge of inflicting bodily harm.If found guilty, Lebedev could face up to five years in prison – or a 300,000-ruble (about $10,000) fine.Earlier, Lebedev said his blow on Polonsky was “preemptive,” and he had just pushed away his opponent, who was threatening him. Now he suspects “some unknown political motives” may be behind the criminal charges.“This case is not even fabricated, it’s just pure imagination,” says Lebedev's lawyer Henri Reznik. “I suppose it was done to intimidate Lebedev, to make him leave the country. Then, this is moral pressure. Corrupt people want to put an end to any public and political activity, hoping a court would put through the secret police’s decision.”Lebedev was supposed to sign a form vowing that he would not leave the country until the proceedings finish. This is one of the pre-trial conditions in Russia, with others being house arrest or custody. Lebedev refused to sign, saying the measure was “ridiculous” since he had “never tried to avoid justice.”