Russian magnate Alexander Lebedev, who owns newspapers in Russia and Britain, went on trial Thursday in a preliminary hearing on charges of assault and hooliganism for punching a fellow tycoon on a television talk show.
Lebedev, the co-owner of Britain's The Evening Standard and The Independent newspapers, dismissed the charges as a fabrication as he attended the hearing at a court in Moscow.
Lebedev, a 53-year-old former KGB agent, punched Sergei Polonsky, an outspoken real estate tycoon, during an argument on a Russian talk show in September 2011.
"I think it is made-up from start to finish," Lebedev told reporters at the courthouse, blaming the decision to press charges on "political hatred".
In a bizarre twist to the trial, the aggrieved party Polonsky was not present for the hearing as he has been detained in Cambodia since December 31 on suspicion of inflicting violence on a group of local boatmen.
Lebedev, who co-owns Russia's vehemently anti-Kremlin Novaya Gazeta newspaper along with the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, has turned increasingly critical of the Russian authorities in the last years.
The bank he owns has been raided by the Russian authorities in a separate probe while the aviation authorities also ordered his airline Red Wings to halt operations after a crash.
In the trial he faces charges of hooliganism, which carries a maximum five-year jail term, and assault, which carries a penalty of up to two years.
While television pictures clearly show Lebedev punching Polonsky on the chat show, his legal team is expected to argue the actions did not amount to criminal assault.
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