LONDON (Reuters) - A Russian property developer who was punched during a television talkshow by billionaire media tycoon Alexander Lebedev is suing Lebedev for libel in Britain for saying he deserved the beating.
Lebedev told Britain’s BBC that Polonsky had insulted him for 90 minutes “which actually ended with direct aggression against me, with actually a threatening move.”
Britain has stringent libel laws that make it easier to sue for defamation there than in many other countries. Advocates for changing the laws say foreigners often come to Britain to sue each other as “libel tourists.”
Russian prosecutors have already opened a criminal assault case against Lebedev, owner of Britain’s Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers, over the incident in which Lebedev punched Sergei Polonsky in the face on prime time television.
Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the assault “hooliganism.”
Lawyer Andrew Stephenson, representing Polonsky, said Lebedev had made the matter worse by giving interviews since the incident, including to British media, in which he defended his assault as a justified response to Polonsky’s behavior.
“Mr Lebedev seems to be saying in effect that Mr Polonsky got what he deserved. What Mr Polonsky is looking for is a full apology and compensation for the defamation,” said Stephenson.
In the incident in September, Polonsky and Lebedev were appearing on a talk show to discuss the economic crisis. Polonsky said he would rather punch someone than discuss financial issues with oligarchs.
Lebedev leapt up and punched Polonsky three times in the face, throwing him off his metal stool.
Polonsky said in a statement: “Mr Lebedev’s unprovoked and cowardly physical assault on my person in Russia is a matter for the Russian authorities. His unprovoked and cowardly verbal assault on my reputation in England is a matter for the English authorities.”
In Moscow, Lebedev’s spokesman Artyov Artyomov said he was unable to comment on Polonsky’s British lawsuit “because we are not aware of what he is up to. We are not following his plans.”
Reporting by Peter Graff in London; Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow; Editing by Louise Ireland