Alexander Lebedev trial: A fittingly bizarre end to court case that felt like a farce

 

Moscow

The final day of hearings in the trial of Alexander Lebedev was a fittingly bizarre end to a case that has rarely seemed to conform to normal ideas of justice.

Over its duration, the court has heard from martial arts specialists, “witnesses” who had been approached on public transport by the prosecution and asked to testify that they had seen the punches on television, and a succession of “experts” engaging in long and tedious discussions about the meaning of the word “political”.

Hanging over the trial from the start has been the invisible presence of Sergei Polonsky, the man whom Mr Lebedev punched but who has never appeared at a hearing, and instead was represented in court by two lawyers who have often indulged in the absurdity of the case with knowing smiles.

Mr Lebedev’s team has repeatedly argued that it is senseless to try the case without Mr Polonsky present, but his lawyers have said he cannot attend because he is not allowed to leave Cambodia. The court accepted this reason, despite the fact that video footage and Mr Polonsky’s own Facebook page show that he has long skipped bail in Cambodia and fled to Israel.

Much of the trial has revolved round a laboured semantic debate over whether or not the television programme, or Mr Lebedev’s actions, could be classed as “political” in any way. The only witness to state with any certainty that he believed there had been political motivation was a “culturological specialist” called Sergei Komkov, whose academic qualifications became the subject of a lengthy debate between the two sets of lawyers.

Presiding over affairs has been Andrei Bakhvalov, a relatively young judge with an impressive range of contemptuous expressions. At times he chuckled along with the farce, but periodically remembered himself and upbraided those on the spectators’ benches for giggling.

Yesterday morning, the prosecutor, a quiet woman who often seems left out of the testosterone-fuelled debates between the lawyers for Mr Lebedev and Mr Polonsky, had shocked everyone by essentially agreeing with the defence that there was no political motivation in Mr Lebedev’s punches.

It seems likely that a political decision has been taken that it would be unwise to jail Mr Lebedev, and hence the prosecutor’s tone had changed overnight, as she called for the relatively light sentence of 21 months, during which Mr Lebedev would have to register at a police station once a month but would otherwise be a free man.

As the prosecutor was reading her statement, Mr Polonsky posted on his Facebook page that he wanted to fire his two lawyers. One of them, Vadim Samsonov, looked shocked when shown the message. He also had a letter delivered to the court in which he called for the judge to issue an innocent verdict, musing that “in this mad world, official statistics show that 35 per cent of people are psychologically unbalanced” and that given this, clemency should be shown.

“Lebedev won’t survive prison, and a fine is insignificant for him,” wrote Mr Polonsky. “I ask you to recommend that he comes to me for a meeting to discuss all issues.”

“What the hell is this?” barked Judge Bakhvalov as he was handed a copy of Mr Polonsky’s last-minute plea for clemency by a bailiff yesterday afternoon. He glanced at the letter dismissively and ignored it, while Mr Lebedev’s lawyers said that the letter lacked the requisite stamps and authorisation to prove its authenticity and would thus be ignored.

However, unless the judge takes the highly unusual step of imposing a sentence greater than that demanded by the prosecutor, Mr Lebedev will not be going to prison anyway. “The whole pack of documents on which the case was based was a farce from the beginning,” said Mr Lebedev outside the courtroom. “This has been a humiliation for the investigators.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?