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In Kremlin's crosshairs? Russian tycoon Lebedev charged with hooliganism

Alexander Lebedev, who has been an outspoken critic of the Pussy Riot verdict, could face up to five years in prison for punching a fellow tycoon on Russian television last year.

By Correspondent / September 27, 2012

Alexander Lebedev, chairman of Russia's National Reserve Corporation, attends an interview with Reuters journalists in Moscow September 25, 2012.

Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

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Moscow

Russian billionaire banker and newspaper entrepreneur Alexander Lebedev may be about to receive the same treatment as other tycoons who have meddled in politics without the Kremlin's permission: a prison term.

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Mr. Lebedev has been charged with "hooliganism... motivated by political hatred," which carries a potential jail sentence of 5 years, in connection with a televised dust-up between himself and billionaire real estate magnate Sergei Polonsky that occurred over a year ago.

Lebedev, a former KGB spy whose family owns a string of newspapers in Britain, admits striking Mr. Polonsky, but insists he was acting "preventively" after being threatened during a heated discussion on the popular talk show NTVshniki. Video of the altercation has been available on YouTube and other sources since last September.

Polonsky, a former paratrooper, was knocked down in the scuffle, and later said he had suffered a cut on his arm and torn trousers as a result of Lebedev's attack.

The belated timing of the charges, as well as the addition of "political hatred" – which greatly increases the sentence that can result from a simple "hooliganism" conviction – has Lebedev's supporters claiming that it's really all about political payback from the Kremlin. Lebedev has always been careful not to oppose Putin directly, but he is part owner, along with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, of the combative opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta, and is major sponsor of the Anti-Corruption Fund set up by opposition leader Alexei Navalny last spring.

Lebedev was also an outspoken critic of the recent prison sentence meted out to three members of the band Pussy Riot who were also charged with "hooliganism" plus the sentence-multiplying addition of "religious hatred" for performing a profane anti-Putin "punk prayer" in Moscow's leading cathedral.

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