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Russian tycoon punches fellow billionaire on TV

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Russian tycoon has punched a fellow billionaire on a television panel show after a discussion on the financial crisis degenerated into petty name-calling.

Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB operative and owner of two major newspapers in Britain, wrote on his blog that property developer Sergei Polonsky had earned the clobbering by behaving abusively throughout the recording of the program.

In a preview clip posted on the NTV channel's website before the show airing Sunday evening, Polonsky is seen saying that he sometimes felt like "bashing (Lebedev) in the face," prompting the newspaper owner to jump to his feet.

After sitting back down, Lebedev then swiftly delivered a sucker punch, sending Polonsky tumbling to the ground.

The clip then shows Lebedev squaring up to a stunned Polonsky as the presenter puts himself between the two men.

Writing on his blog, Lebedev displayed no sign of contrition.

"Unfortunately, NTV viewers cannot see how Polonsky behaved during the one-and-a-half hour recording. Everybody could see that he was absolutely off his head," Lebedev wrote.

After the recording, Polonsky complained he had sustained a hand injury and that his jeans were ripped. That drew only mocking incredulity from Lebedev.

"Now, he's showing his ripped pants, and it is hard to say anything about that. He was hit in the face and he's showing off a hole in the backside of his trousers. Strange," Lebedev wrote.

Lebedev, who is estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $3.1 billion, made his money in the banking industry and owns a 30 percent stake in Russian airline Aeroflot. He also finances Novaya Gazeta, a Russian opposition newspaper, and two British newspapers — the Independent and the Evening Standard.

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 television debate.