‘Witch hunt’ punch-up hearing postponed due to absence of Lebedev lawyers

A pre-trial hearing in Moscow related to charges of hooliganism against Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev has been postponed due to the absence of Lebedev’s lawyers.

The hearing, which was due to take place last week, was postponed as Lebedev’s lawyer Henri Reznik was out of the country and another member of his legal team was busy working on another case, Lebedev told reporters outside Moscow Ostankino district court.

The trial related to an incident when Lebedev was taking part in an episode of Russian television programme NTVshniki that was broadcast on 16 September 2011. According to the footage, Lebedev is shown to punch Russian property developer Sergei Polonsky, who was seated at the time.

In June 2012, Lebedev, who part owns Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and co-owns the Evening Standard and the Independent newspaper group alongside his son Evgeny, was served with libel proceedings relating to the punch-up brought by Polonsky and his lawyers Andrew Stephenson, head of media law at media firm Carter-Ruck, and Alexander Dobrovinsky of Alexander Dobrovinsky and Partners.

The proceedings where first issued on 18 October 2011 in London’s High Court, but in a statement released last June Polonsky’s lawyers argued that despite multiple copies of the proceedings having being sent to Lebedev and his lawyers, they had been ignored.

In September last year Russia’s Investigation Committee announced in a statement in Russian on its website that it was charging Lebedev with hooliganism motivated by either religious, political, racial, ethnic or ideological hatred. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.

The statement also said that the committee had asked Lebedev to sign a document that would prevent him from leaving the country but that the businessman rejected the charges and refused to sign.

Meanwhile, earlier this month Polonsky was arrested in Cambodia alongside two other Russians for allegedly holding several local sailors hostage and forcing them to jump into the sea at knifepoint.

Polonsky and the other Russian citizens may be released from custody in the next few days, reported Itar-Tass news agency.

Lebedev, who has likened the trial to a “witch hunt” and dismissed the charges against him as “groundless”, told reporters outside the court that he had offered to cover Polonsky’s bail in Cambodia, but that the offer had been refused.

He also said that due to the absence of both his lawyers and the plaintiff the hearing had been postponed until 7 February.

Lawyers for Lebedev and Polonsky could not be reached for comment.