Russian Tycoon Lebedev May Avoid Prison Term With Lesser Penalty

Russian newspaper tycoon Alexander Lebedev, faces a lesser penalty for hooliganism after prosecutors dropped their demand for a jail sentence.

Lebedev, 53, who’s being prosecuted in Moscow for punching Sergei Polonsky, a property developer, on a televised talk show in 2011, should have his movements restricted for 21 months, the prosecutor said today in the Russian capital, according to the businessman’s spokesman, Artem Artemov. Lebedev was facing charges that carry a maximum prison sentence of five years.

The former KGB agent, who served in the Soviet Embassy in London during the Cold War, has said his fortune has fallen to several hundred million dollars from $2 billion two years ago after he came under official pressure. Lebedev has criticized corruption and the lack of democracy during Vladimir Putin’s 13-year rule, without publicly attacking the Russian president.

Lebedev says he’s the subject of a three-year campaign in retaliation for funding Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper critical of Putin that investigates corruption. Lebedev also finances the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers in the U.K.

Polonsky, 40, was detained this year in Cambodia after he and two other Russians allegedly threatened the crew of a boat with a knife. Polonsky, who denies the accusations, was freed on bail. He’s been charged separately in absentia with embezzlement in Russia.

Polonsky called on the judge at Moscow’s Ostankino court to find Lebedev not guilty in an open letter posted on his Twitter Inc. account, which said he couldn’t attend the hearing.

Restricted Movement

Lebedev would be banned from attending public events, relocating and changing job without permission for 21 months if the judge accepts the prosecutor’s demand. A verdict in the case will be delivered on July 2, according to the state-run news service RIA Novosti.

The investigation into Lebedev’s televised attack on Polonsky began in September 2011, days after then-Prime Minister Putin branded the incident “hooliganism” at a Sept. 21 meeting with his All-Russia People’s Front.

Lebedev has said crooked businessmen in collusion with public officials have “embezzled and siphoned off” at least $700 billion from Russia during the past 15 years, citing data from the Web-based Tax Justice Network.

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