Newspaper mogul punches opponent during TV debate
A RUSSIAN billionaire owner of two British newspapers is refusing to apologise after punching a fellow guest in the face on a TV show, knocking him off his chair.
Alexander Lebedev, owner of British papers the 'Independent' and the 'Evening Standard', floored fellow billionaire Sergei Polonsky as a debate on the global financial crisis degenerated into petty name-calling.
In a preview clip posted on the NTV channel's website yesterday, Mr Polonsky is seen saying that he sometimes felt like "bashing (Lebedev) in the face", prompting the newspaper owner to jump to his feet.
A shocked studio audience watched as the former KGB agent, who made a fortune in banking, landed a right jab on Mr Polonsky's face.
Mr Polonsky was knocked from his chair and tumbled off the back of the studio's elevated platform.
Footage of the incident then shows Mr Lebedev squaring up to a stunned Mr Polonsky as the presenter puts himself between the two men.
Writing on his blog yesterday, Mr Lebedev justified the attack by saying Mr Polonsky had behaved in an aggressive, threatening manner throughout the debate.
"In a critical situation, there is no choice. I see no reason to be hit with the first shot. I neutralised him," he said.
"Unfortunately, viewers cannot see how Mr Polonsky behaved during the one-and-a-half-hour recording. Everybody could see that he was absolutely off his head," Mr Lebedev wrote.
After the recording, property developer Mr Polonsky complained that his jeans were ripped. That drew only mocking incredulity from Mr Lebedev.
"He was hit in the face and he's showing off a hole in the backside of his trousers. Strange," Mr Lebedev wrote.
Mr Lebedev, who is estimated by 'Forbes' magazine to have a net worth of $3.1bn (€2.2bn), made his money in banking and owns a 30pc stake in Russian airline Aeroflot. He also finances 'Novaya Gazeta', a Russian opposition newspaper, as well as the British papers.
Scuffles and heated exchanges between guests are common on Russian political discussion shows.
Perhaps the most famous such incident took place in 1995, when nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky threw his drink, and then his glass, at his opponent during a debate.