(Reuters) – Russian billionaire and British media magnate Alexander Lebedev is being investigated for throwing a punch at a fellow entrepreneur on a prime time television talk show, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Prosecutors said in an online statement that the case was opened after an initial investigation found Lebedev had “inflicted bodily harm” on property developer Sergei Polonsky, himself a one-time billionaire who lost part of his fortune during the economic crisis.
Lebedev, the owner of Britain’s The Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers, faces up to five years imprisonment under the criminal charges.
Goaded by Polonsky’s comment that he would rather hit someone than discuss financial matters with oligarchs, Lebedev sprung up and punched the notoriously brash property tycoon in the face, sending him wheeling backward off the stage set.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later characterized the on-air fisticuffs as “hooliganism.”
While former KGB agent Lebedev defended his move, a dazed Polonsky swiftly said he would seek legal action, posting images of his ripped trousers and scratches on his blog.
Lebedev, 51, is a former Russian spy who made billions trading stocks and bonds after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Polonsky was on the Forbes billionaires list in 2008 but was knocked off during the economic crisis, which hit Russia harder than many other emerging countries.