(Adds Lebedev reaction in second paragraph.)
Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Russian investigators opened a criminal case against billionaire Alexander Lebedev after a physical altercation on property developer Sergey Polonsky during a television show last month.
Investigators accuse Lebedev, who is the owner of The Independent and the London Evening Standard newspapers in the U.K., of “hooliganism,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement posted on its website today. Lebedev wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted on his mobile phone. He posted a link to the committee statement on his blog titled “no comment.”
Polonsky, 38, speaking at a pre-recorded show that aired on Sept. 16 on the global economic crisis, pointed at other guests including Lebedev saying that he “felt like punching somebody in the face.” Lebedev sprung to his feet first asking Polonsky whether “he was off his mind” and then hit him three times knocking the former property tycoon off a stool.
The Lebedev-Polonsky spat drew attention from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who branded it as “hooliganism” at a meeting with his All-Russia People’s Front on Sept. 21, RIA Novosti reported. Putin who said Sept. 24 he will run for president next year, has remained at the center of power since relinquishing the top job to his protégé Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.
“They hit each other in the ear,” Putin said. “Imagine how they fight for money, they would go at each other’s throats.”
Lebedev, 51, a former lawmaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament and a KGB officer who worked at the Soviet Embassy in London during the Cold War, now has a fortune valued by Forbes magazine at $2.1 billion. His National Reserve Corp.’s holdings include a stake in Russia’s flagship airline OAO Aeroflot and in banking, construction, property, agriculture and media companies.
Polonsky, ranked Russia’s 40th richest man with a fortune of $4.35 billion by Forbes magazine in 2008, said in March he was quitting business after his property developer went bankrupt. Polonsky’s Mirax Group was most known for starting construction on a 506-meter (1,660-foot) Federation Tower in Moscow’s new financial district.
--Editors: Denis Maternovsky, Alan Crosby
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