Independent owner Lebedev cleared for London trip ahead of 'hooliganism' trial

Alexander Lebedev, the owner of The Independent and Evening Standard, has been granted permission to travel, despite facing up to five years in jail over a televised assault.

The media magnate appeared in a Moscow court yesterday to face charges of “hooliganism motivated by political hatred” after punching property tycoon Sergei Polonsky during a 2011 television show.

Lebedev has previously said the charges are politically motivated (reported The Guardian) on the part of the Russian authorities, angered by his support for investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which he co-owns with former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

At yesterday’s hearing a state prosecutor said Lebedev showed “a lack of respect for society” (The Guardian). However, the jury agreed to lift a travel ban on the billionaire, allowing him to travel to London on a business trip. He could face arrest if he fails to return to Moscow next week ahead of the start of the trial on 20 May.

The incident occurred during the recording of a debate on the state-controlled NTV station in 2011. Lebedev claims he punched Polonsky and knocked him off his stool after being verbally provoked. Prosecutors say the attack was launched out of “hatred for the political”, leading to the more serious charge.

The case has already drawn comparison with last year’s Pussy Riot case, where similar charges were used to jail the pop group.

Lebedev has reportedly been collecting celebrity support for his case and has claimed he might call a number of high-profile figures, including Keira Knightley, Stephen Fry and John Malkovich to testify as character witnesses.

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