Alexander Lebedev avoids jail and is sentenced to 150 hours of community service for punching fellow tycoon on Russian TV

 

Moscow

Alexander Lebedev was found guilty of battery and sentenced to 150 hours of community service by a Moscow court this afternoon, but avoided a potential jail sentence of up to five years.

Mr Lebedev, Russian businessman and the financial backer of The Independent, said outside the courtroom that it was the "lowest possible" punishment but that he nevertheless did not accept his guilt and planned to appeal the verdict.

The sentence brings to an end an often farcical trial over Mr Lebedev's punches of fellow Russian tycoon, Sergei Polonsky on television in 2011. The prosecutor had intially insisted that the punches constituted "hooliganism motivated by political hatred", which would have carried a jail sentence of up to five years, but these charges were dropped at the final hearing. The judge found Mr Lebedev guilty of the lesser charge of battery, even though Mr Lebedev's legal team said that legal precedent showed that battery had to involve three or more punches, and Mr Lebedev only punched Mr Polonsky twice.

Mr Polonsky, who in January was arrested in Cambodia on suspicion of assaulting local sailors, did not attend any of the hearings. He is believed to be in hiding in Israel, and last week fired his lawyers during one of the last hearings and asked the judge to acquit Mr Lebedev.

Genri Reznik, Mr Lebedev's lawyer, said that the judge should be "ashamed" at the verdict, and said the whole case had been instigated by political or business enemies of Mr Lebedev, who had initially hoped that the businessman would flee the country at the threat of jail. "The verdict did not take into account the most important pieces of evidence that we have presented over the hearings," said Mr Reznik. "This has always been revenge by certain people through the courts."

Mr Lebedev's punishment will not come into force until the appeals process has been exhausted, but community service in Russia is usually manual labour carried out near the place of residence. Mr Lebedev said he was prepared to put in the hours at Novaya Gazeta, the investigative Russian newspaper that he part-owns.

"The trial was flawed from the start," said Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta. "Polonsky never showed up to be questioned, the work of the investigators was awful, and a dangerous precedent has been set about the quality of 'expert opinion' that the judge apparently found acceptable."

Mr Lebedev's son Evgeny, owner of the Independent and London Evening Standard, said: "I am relieved that my father has been spared a custodial sentence, and that this deeply worrying time for our family is finally at an end.

"We are grateful for the messages of support we have received from friends and well-wishers, in Russia and around the world."

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