Anti-Putin Leader Navalny Risks Jail as Russian Charges Loom

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny will be indicted next week on charges that carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, his lawyer said.

Navalny, 36, has been summoned to the Investigative Committee in Moscow on July 30 to be formally charged over claims that he caused damage to a state timber company in 2009, lawyer Vadim Kobzyov said by telephone today. Navalny denies any wrongdoing.

President Vladimir Putin, 59, who extended his 12-year rule in March elections that handed him another six years at the Kremlin, is cracking down on the opposition after facing the biggest unrest since he came to power in 2000. Navalny said on his Twitter Inc. account today that he may be detained when the charges are filed.

The activist yesterday published documents on his blog which he says prove that Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, held Czech residency from 2007 to 2009, and bought property and managed a company in the European Union member state. The Czech Republic’s Interior Ministry confirmed that Bastrykin had held residency in the country when contacted by Bloomberg.

Speaking in an interview with Izvestia, Bastrykin denied having engaged in any business activities in the Czech Republic, saying he set up a company to buy an apartment in Prague in 2000.

Government Crackdown

The authorities have made it more difficult for opposition groups to operate by tightening controls over Internet use and imposing new restrictions on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations. Lawmakers approved raising fines on unsanctioned protesters 150-fold and making libel a criminal offense.

Russian billionaire newspaper owner Alexander Lebedev, who backs the opposition movement, said in a July 24 interview that he expects to be charged in a criminal case relating to his brawl with a rival businessman last September.

Lebedev has been investigated under charges of hooliganism, which carry a maximum prison term of five years. He’s financing the anti-graft drive of Navalny, who was elected last month to the board of state carrier OAO Aeroflot after Lebedev proposed him as an independent director.

The Investigative Committee in May overturned a decision by its branch in the Kirov region northeast of Moscow to drop the criminal investigation into Navalny for allegedly costing state timber company Kirovles more than 1 million rubles ($31,000) by organizing a money-losing contract.

Navalny’s Threats

The law-enforcement agency said in February 2011 on its website that Navalny had threatened with dismissal the manager of the timber company to pressure him to sign a contract with another firm. The lawyer was working at the time as an unpaid adviser on corporate governance to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh, who came to his defense.

Police have questioned Navalny and another opposition leader, Sergei Udaltsov, on separate charges of inciting mass disturbances and violence against officials during a protest on the eve of Putin’s May inauguration that ended in clashes with police, a crime punishable by as much as 10 years in jail.

Navalny, who has campaigned against corruption at state companies and by government officials, is the most popular leader among opposition protesters, according to a poll published on June 27 by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. Navalny was preferred by 46 percent of those who joined the protests, with Udaltsov second with a 26 percent popularity rating.

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