Russian tycoon Lebedev avoids jail over TV brawl
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian media magnate Alexander Lebedev was ordered on Tuesday to do 150 hours of community service, but avoided a jail sentence after being convicted of battery for punching a rival during a television talk show.
Lebedev has said he saw the trial as President Vladimir Putin's revenge for his criticism of the government, and the financial backer of The Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers said he planned to appeal against the verdict.
"We had hoped for an acquittal," Lebedev, dressed casually in a jacket, shirt and jeans, said after Judge Andrei Bakhvalov read out the verdict in a Moscow court after a two-month trial.
"I plan, of course, to carry on my activities in Russia," he told reporters after sitting in silence as the verdict was read. "We insist on our innocence."
In earlier hearings Lebedev, once a billionaire, had tapped at his iPad in a show of contempt for the proceedings. He has also suggested the case was intended to force him to flee Russia.
"I am ashamed of this verdict," Lebedev's lawyer, Genry Reznik, said after the judge sentenced his client.
Lebedev had faced up to five years in jail on charges of hooliganism motivated by political hatred, but the judge dismissed the more serious charges against him and the state prosecution dropped the jail threat last week.
In his TV appearance, Lebedev had jumped out of his chair and hurled punches at property developer Sergei Polonsky as they recorded a talk show in late 2011. Polonsky was knocked backwards off the studio podium, but Lebedev, 53, portrayed the punches as a pre-emptive strike because he felt under threat.
Lebedev is rare among oligarchs in speaking out against the Kremlin since the imprisonment of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was arrested in 2003 after falling out with Putin. Khodorkovsky's oil company Yukos was broken up and sold off, mainly into state hands.
Lebedev, who co-owns a campaigning Russian newspaper critical of Putin, also portrayed the case as part of a broader crackdown on the opposition since the former KGB spy returned to the presidency in May 2011.
(Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Steve Gutterman and David Holmes)
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