MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian tycoon who financed a newspaper critical of the Kremlin was found guilty Tuesday of assault for punching a talk show guest and sentenced to 150 hours of community service.
Alexander Lebedev, who owns the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, punched property developer Sergei Polonsky during a TV talk show in 2011. Lebedev dismissed the criminal case as politically motivated, and his lawyer told Russian news agencies that his team will appeal the verdict by a Moscow district court.
Prosecutors had dropped hooliganism charges against the tycoon that could have landed him in jail. The charges refer to a September 2011 incident when Lebedev punched flamboyant tycoon Polonsky during a TV discussion of the financial crisis, sending him tumbling to the ground. After the recording, Polonsky complained he had sustained a hand injury and that his jeans were ripped.
Novaya Gazeta's relentless criticism of the Kremlin and its investigations into official corruption have put many of its journalists under fire. Four of its reporters have been killed since 2000, including Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin and its policies in Chechnya who was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building in 2006. Others have been harassed and attacked.
Lebedev, estimated to be worth $1.1 billion, made his money in banking. He has also financed British papers the Independent and the Evening Standard. The tycoon has said he was being forced to sell his assets because of pressure by Russia's Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency. But Lebedev, a KGB veteran like Vladimir Putin Putin, has avoided blaming the president for his woes.
Polonsky spent three months in jail in Cambodia this year for allegedly attacking the crew of a boat after a dispute erupted during a New Year's Eve outing.