The court trying Alexander Lebedev on charges of “hooliganism motivated by political hatred” heard testimony from martial arts experts today, in another surreal twist in a case that has often bordered on farce. Mr Lebedev, Russian businessman and financial backer of The Independent, is on trial for punching fellow tycoon Sergei Polonsky on a 2011 television programme and could be jailed for up to five years in jail if convicted.
Mr Lebedev, who also part-owns the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, has said that the charges are politically motivated, and most of the witnesses in the case so far have supported the defence claims that Mr Lebedev’s punches were not politically motivated and that Mr Polonsky had been acting provocatively.
Sergei Lisovsky, a fellow businessman and another guest of the programme where the incident occurred, testified yesterday that Mr Polonsky had been “aggressive and provocative” during the recording. “I found his disrespectful attitude unpleasant,” he said.
“He is a normal witness as he was in the room sitting next to me and not caught on the street months later,” said Mr Lebedev outside the court, alluding to the fact that the prosecution called people as witnesses who had watched the talk show on television and had been asked to testify by plain-clothed security agents who apprehended them on public transport.
Mr Lebedev’s lawyers read out a physical and psychological analysis of the assault on Mr Polonsky by three martial arts experts, and it is expected that the trio will testify in court on Monday.
One witness who has not yet appeared is Mr Polonsky himself. Arrested in Cambodia over New Year for assaulting local sailors, Mr Polonsky’s lawyers have said that he cannot come to court because he is not allowed to leave Cambodia, where he was released on bail. However, he is believed to have fled several weeks ago, and television footage suggests that he is living in Israel, where he apparently wants to seek citizenship. In recent days he has also been charged by Russian prosecutors over an alleged £120m embezzlement, meaning if he does return to Russia he could be arrested.
“It is unpleasant when a professional lawyer thinks it is acceptable to twist the truth of affairs so much,” said Genri Reznik, one of Mr Lebedev’s lawyers, in response to repeated claims by Mr Polonsky’s lawyers that their client is stuck in Cambodia. The defence team says that only Mr Polonsky can explain why he believes that Mr Lebedev acted out of political hatred, however the judge again ruled yesterday that the case can be heard without Mr Polonsky present.
The case continues on Monday, and is expected to conclude by early July.