MOSCOW, September 26 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) – Russian investigators brought charges of public disorder and battery against billionaire businessman and Kremlin critic Alexander Lebedev on Wednesday in a case that could see him face up to five years behind bars.
“The charge is absurd - there is not a single lawyer or expert who would support it,” Lebedev advisor Artyom Artyomov told RIA Novosti.
The charges of “a politically motivated grave violation of public order” come over a year after Lebedev, 52, punched property developer Sergei Polonsky during the recording of a television program for the state-run television channel NTV.
Lebedev, a former KGB officer, knocked Polonsky to the ground during a political debate. Polonsky suffered no serious injuries.
Lebedev is co-owner of the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper and owner of the U.K’s The Independent daily. His Moscow-based bank has also supported a scheme to raise funds for opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption project RosPil.
"He is being targeted by people who don't like his stance against corruption, and hate Novaya [Gazeta]," his son, Yevgeny Lebedev, wrote on Twitter. "I don't condone violence, but the punishment does not fit the crime here. We need more Russians to speak out against injustice, not fewer. I hope this isn't the start of a new crackdown."
Alexander Lebedev said earlier this year that he was considering ending his business activities in Russia over pressure from the security services that he said was connected to his support for opposition groups.
He also offered to stand bail for anti-Putin punks Pussy Riot during their controversial trial earlier this year and signed a letter calling for their release. Three members of the group were jailed for two years each on August 17 over a protest against Orthodox Church support for Vladimir Putin ahead of the March 4 presidential polls.