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Russian billionaires come to blows

Alexander Lebedev, Russian owner of the Independent, lashes out at property tycoon Sergei Polonsky on chat show

He may appear the model of a yoga-loving, sneakers-wearing media mogul, but Alexander Lebedev, the billionaire owner of the Independent and the Evening Standard, has proved he has kept a little of his old KGB steel after punching a businessman in the face during a Russian television show.

Lebedev, 51, knocked Sergei Polonsky, a real estate developer, from his chair as both men were appearing as guests on a show about the global financial crisis that was being recorded on Friday.

The incident took place when Polonsky criticised his fellow pundits, gestured at Lebedev and said, “I’m already worn out from the desire to give him a punch in the chops.” In response, the newspaper owner said, “Well, try it” and rose to his feet.

Lebedev then sat down, but seconds later, as Polonsky began criticising him again, the former swung from a sitting position and hit the latter with a right. A second blow, which did not connect cleanly, sent the developer tumbling to the floor.

The newspaper owner then advanced across the stage in a hunched, pugilist’s pose, and stopped in front of Polonsky, saying calmly: “Go on then, or are you waiting for me to take off my glasses?”

Polonsky, 38, is the former owner of Mirax Group, a large developing company that went bankrupt earlier this year. He is well known for his brash statements, in particular saying in 2008 that anyone without a billion dollars is a “loser”.

During the recording of the NTV show, Polonsky reportedly criticised Lebedev for drawing public attention to a crack in a skyscraper he was building in Moscow.

Both men commented on the confrontation on social media over the weekend. Polonsky posted a picture of a scratch on his arm and of a tear in the seat of his jeans. He said he had requested footage and would consider legal action against Lebedev.

Lebedev, who served as an officer in the KGB and Russia’s foreign intelligence service, told a news agency that he had asked Polonsky to confirm whom he wanted to punch: “I said, ‘Do you mean me?’ He replied, yes. After which I neatly neutralised that absolutely unfounded threat.”

On his blog, Lebedev also said Polonsky had “behaved like a street hooligan”, been rude to several guests and conducted himself with “real aggression” during the recording of the show. The two men received expressions of support online, with Lebedev appearing to gain the most. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s representative to Nato, tweeted: “Nice one, Lebedev, although fighting is not good. He deserved it. You’re a real man.”

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