MOSCOW (AFP) – A Moscow court on Tuesday convicted Alexander Lebedev, owner of British newspapers The Independent and the London Evening Standard, for battery of another businessman during a televised talk show in 2011, sentencing him to 150 hours of community labour.
The Ostankinsky District Court found Lebedev, who also owns several major newspapers in Russia, guilty of assaulting construction magnate Sergei Polonsky in September 2011, Russian news agencies reported.
Lebedev, a maverick banker and former intelligence officer who owns Moscow's opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta together with Mikhail Gorbachev, has labelled the case as fabricated.
Nearly two years ago, Lebedev appeared alongside flamboyant construction magnate Sergei Polonsky in a talk show on NTV channel. When an argument broke out, he got up and delivered several punches to Polonsky, who fell out of his chair.
Lebedev later justified the action by saying Polonsky had behaved in a threatening manner.
Defence lawyer Genri Reznik vowed to appeal the verdict on Tuesday, telling journalists that the entire case was an effort to punish Lebedev for investing into Novaya Gazeta, a tri-weekly newspaper fiercely critical of the Kremlin.
Under Russian law, "compulsory labour" is unpaid work that the convict must engage in outside his regular work, which benefits society and can be carried out not more than four hours per day.
Lebedev has also owned the Evening Standard since 2009 and The Independent since 2010. His son Evgeny Lebedev, who is the chairman of publisher Independent Print Ltd, flew in for the court hearing, according to his Twitter blog.
The case has dragged on since September 2012, when Lebedev was charged with battery as well as hooliganism motivated by political hatred, which could result in a lengthy jail sentence.
However last week, prosecutors in the case asked the judge to drop the hooliganism charge, essentially ruling out a prison sentence.
The 53-year-old, who has complained of government pressure and last year said he will sell his Russian assets due to continuing persecution, dismissed the charges as a fabrication.
Polonsky, known for eccentricities, outrageous remarks and a lavish lifestyle, last week posted on his Facebook page a letter in which he asked the judge to find Lebedev not guilty.
The case veered toward the absurd earlier this year when Polonsky himself was jailed in Cambodia on suspicion of inflicting violence on a group of local boatmen. Polonsky was released in April but remained outside of Russia. Last week he reportedly sold one island and bought another.