A Russian prosecutor demanded a six-year prison term for Alexey Navalny, who’s on trial for fraud, in a case the leading opponent of President Vladimir Putin has said is politically motivated.
The prosecutor in Kirov, 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of Moscow, also asked the court to fine Navalny 1 million rubles ($30,000) over charges that he defrauded state timber company Kirovles of 16 million rubles. He may be jailed immediately if a guilty verdict is handed down, even if the sentence is being appealed.
Navalny, 37, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, denies any wrongdoing and says the case is payback for helping lead protests in 2011 that were the biggest against Putin’s 13-year rule. The verdict will be announced on July 18, less than two months before Navalny plans to run in Moscow’s snap mayoral election.
“I declare that both myself and my colleagues will do everything to destroy this feudal regime that’s become entrenched in Russia,” Navalny said today. Accusations presented at the trial were intended to thwart his work exposing graft in the country, he said.
Putin, 60, has sought to rein in dissent since his 2012 return to the presidency. Some protesters have been imprisoned after a rally in May last year turned violent, while non-government organizations that get funding from abroad are being threatened with fines or possible closing unless they declare themselves foreign agents.
A second criminal case was opened today on suspicion of bribery against a Russian mayor who won against a candidate backed by Putin’s ruling party last year, according to the Investigative Committee. Yaroslavl Mayor Yevgeny Urlashov was detained this week in a separate probe after allegedly demanding a 14 million-ruble ($420,000) kickback.
Sergei Guriev, an economist who advised the government and served as rector of the New Economic School in Moscow, fled to Paris in April, fearing prosecution because of his ties to Navalny. Guriev is advising the opposition leader on his bid for election as Moscow mayor in September.
Russia was the lowest-ranked Group of Eight nation in Berlin-based Transparency International 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index. Net capital outflows reached $54 billion last year and exceeded $38 billion in the first six months of 2013, preliminary central bank data show.
Forty-four percent of respondents surveyed by the independent Levada Center said the case against Navalny sought to silence him and his supporters, while 12 percent believe it’s an attempt to prevent his run in Moscow’s elections. Even so, only 3 percent of Russians said they were “attentively watching” the proceedings, according to the June 20-24 poll of 1,601 people by the Moscow-based pollster, which had a 3.4 percentage point margin of error and was published yesterday.
Speaking during a televised call-in show in April, Putin denied he’s resorting to Stalin-era tactics by locking up opponents and said “no one is being jailed for political reasons.”
Investigators allege Navalny and two others embezzled more than 10,000 cubic meters of wood products at state-owned Kirovles between May and September 2009. The Investigative Committee says that Navalny threatened the manager of the timber company with dismissal to pressure him into signing a contract with another company, Vyatskaya Lesnaya Kompaniya.
Navalny, a blogger and anti-corruption activist who’s uncovered alleged wrongdoing at state companies, was working at the time as an unpaid adviser on corporate governance in Kirov to regional governor Nikita Belykh, who’s defended him.
Federal investigators twice overruled regional prosecutors who’d dropped the case against Navalny. He’s denounced the proceedings as “political revenge” and vowed to keep up his campaign to uncover fraud at state companies.
The trial follows the case against three members of all-female punk group Pussy Riot, who were convicted last August after a protest targeting Putin inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral. One was later freed on appeal.
Russian authorities opened a fourth criminal case against Navalny on April 18, with all investigations relating to separate cases of alleged fraud.