Alexey Navalny, a leading opponent of President Vladimir Putin who’s on trial for fraud, denounced the proceedings as “political revenge” and vowed to keep up his anti-corruption activities.
“The aim is to persecute me and stop our investigations,” Navalny said at a court hearing today in Kirov, 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of Moscow. “If you think I will be frightened and will shut up, you’re mistaken.”
The court rejected motions by lawyers for Navalny to delay the proceedings to give his defense team more time to study case materials, return the case to prosecutors for more work and dismiss the judge. Navalny, 36, faces as much as 10 years in prison over charges that he defrauded state timber company Kirovles of 16 million rubles ($506,000). He denies any wrongdoing and says the case is payback for helping lead the biggest protests against Putin’s 13-year-rule in 2011.
The trial follows the case against three members of all- female punk group Pussy Riot, who were convicted last August for a protest targeting Putin inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral. One was later freed on appeal. Protesters are also being prosecuted for taking part in anti-Putin rallies that ended in violent clashes.
Jailed former Yukos Oil Co. owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky said that Putin’s goal is to “intimidate and demoralize” his opponents by jailing Navalny and other anti-government activists. Khodorkovsky was detained in October 2003 after funding opposition parties and is serving a 13-year sentence after two convictions for fraud and tax evasion. A Moscow court cut his sentence to 11 years in December.
“In an honest and fair trial, such charges would be untenable and their political motivation obvious,” Khodorkovsky said in an article about ongoing prosecutions published today in the Vedomosti newspaper, according to an e-mailed statement from his defense team.
Putin, 60, who pushed aside his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, to reclaim the presidency last year, faces increasing domestic opposition to an extension of his rule.
Investigators say that Navalny and two others who are also on trial embezzled more than 10,000 cubic meters of wood products at state timber company Kirovles from May through September 2009.
A prosecution official, Sergei Bogdanov, said today in court that Navalny, who was working at the time as an unpaid adviser on corporate governance to Nikita Belykh, governor of the Kirov region, “directed the crime.”
Russian authorities on April 18 opened a fourth criminal case against Navalny, a trained lawyer and an anti-corruption blogger. All relate to separate cases of alleged fraud.
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