Navalny May Face Jail as Court Finds Putin Foe Guilty of Libel

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny may face jail after being found guilty of libeling a Moscow municipal lawmaker and ordered to pay a fine.

Navalny was fined 300,000 rubles ($8,400) by a Moscow court after being found guilty of publishing a defamatory remark against Alexei Lisovenko, according to a posting on Navalny’s Facebook page.

The opposition blogger was accused of calling Lisovenko, a member of Putin’s United Russia Party, a “drug addict” on Twitter Inc. Navalny denied the charge, saying the ruling was the result of a “fantastical” and “absurd” process, according to his Facebook page.

Navalny helped organize the biggest protests against Putin’s 13-year rule and his conviction in July last year for embezzlement sparked street demonstrations, condemnation from the U.S. and Europe and a drop of as much as 1.6 percent in the benchmark Micex Index. He won a third of the vote in last year’s Moscow mayoral race, losing out to Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin.

“It looks like he is out of the picture now,” Chris Weafer, a partner at Moscow-based Macro Advisory, said in e-mailed comments today. “His imprisonment will have little incremental impact on markets because investor sentiment has already been badly hit with the Ukraine crisis. Investor expectations are already at a low point.”

Russia’s Micex has declined 11 percent this year after investors were spooked by the country’s annexation of Crimea and violence in eastern regions of neighboring Ukraine. Equities on the Micex trade at 4.9 times estimated earnings, the cheapest valuation among 21 developing countries monitored by Bloomberg.

Lisovenko last month filed requests to the Prosecutor General and the country’s communications watchdog to review Navalny’s social media posts in light of a ban on his Internet use, according to Lisovenko’s blog.

Navalny was confined to home in February, barred from speaking to the public for two months after he finished a seven-day jail sentence for participating in a Moscow protest.

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