Jail threat recedes as Alexander Lebedev hooliganism charges are dropped

Prosecutor shocks court with late withdrawal of accusation that punches were politically motivated

Moscow

The main charge against Alexander Lebedev was dropped today, in a surprise move that means the Russian businessman and financial backer of The Independent is likely to be spared a jail sentence.

Mr Lebedev faced two charges after he punched Sergei Polonsky, a property mogul, on a television chat show in 2011. He has repeatedly described the case as “fabricated” and motivated by a desire to punish him for his campaigns against corruption.

Today, as the case drew to a close, the state prosecutor dropped the charge of “hooliganism motivated by political hatred”, which could have seen him jailed for up to five years.

She asked the judge to sentence Mr Lebedev to one year and nine months of probation-style restrictions for the lesser charge of “battery”, meaning that he would have to check in at a police station once a week and would be banned from attending public gatherings.

It would be unusual for the judge to hand down a sentence higher than that asked for by the prosecutor, meaning that Mr Lebedev is likely to be spared a jail sentence. Mr Lebedev said during a break in the hearings that he was “surprised” by the prosecutor’s change of heart.

The case has been hampered by the fact that Mr Polonsky has not appeared in court to testify. He is being investigated in Cambodia on charges that he assaulted local sailors but is believed to have fled to Israel.

In another bizarre twist, during today’s hearing Mr Polonsky wrote on his Facebook page that he wanted to fire his lawyers, and asked the judge to issue a not-guilty verdict in a letter that was delivered to the courtroom. The judge ignored the letter.

Mr Lebedev quoted Cicero and Plato in his final words to the court.

His lawyer, Genri Reznik, said that the defendant should be acquitted on all the charges, as the charge of “battery” according to Russian law must involve at least three blows, while Mr Lebedev struck Mr Polonsky only twice.

The judge retired to consider the verdict, which he will issue on Tuesday.

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