05/20/2013 01:31 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2013

Alexander Lebedev, Russian Tycoon On Trial For Punching Talk Show Guest, Gets Support From Witness

By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW, May 20 (Reuters) - Russian media magnate Alexander Lebedev received unexpected support from a prosecution witness on Monday and told a court that charges laid against him over a televised punch-up were invented by state prosecutors.

Lebedev, the financial backer of Britain's Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers and co-owner of a prominent Russian paper that is critical of the Kremlin, pleaded not guilty to a charge of hooliganism motivated by political hatred.

The multi-millionaire could be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted for the 2011 incident in which he jumped from his seat and threw punches at property developer Sergei Polonsky after he goaded Lebedev as they recorded a talk show.

Polonsky was knocked backwards and off the studio podium.

Lebedev, who says he acted in self-defence, argued that what he did was not hooliganism and was not politically motivated. "It seems to me that the charge is wholly invented," he told the Moscow court.

Lebedev has said the case against him is President Vladimir Putin's revenge for his criticism of the government and is a warning to other wealthy Russian businessmen,

Day two of the trial did not seem to go well for the prosecution.

A prosecution witness who was in the studio audience at the talk show recording said Polonsky had acted "very emotionally" and that Lebedev's action followed "a forceful gesture" from the property developer.

"Lebedev could have taken that as an attack. It was a reaction," she said.

Lebedev, a 53-year-old former KGB spy who co-owns the campaigning newspaper Novaya Gazeta with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, has said his case is part of a broader clampdown on Putin's opponents.

He has accused criminal investigators of acting on the Kremlin's orders to punish him for campaigning against corruption and showing sympathy with the opposition.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Pravin Char)



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