Federal investigators in Russia have opened a formal inquiry into claims that prominent Opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny had defrauded a now-defunct liberal political party of 100 million rubles ($3.2 million) five years ago, it was announced on Monday.
The Federal Investigative Committee suspects that a company headed by Navalny had defrauded the now-defunct Union of the Right Forces (SPS) party in 2007 by taking payment for advertising and failing to honor its contract.
Navalny faces up to ten years in prison if convicted of the charges. The Opposition leader has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that he had reported the commission received by his company, the Allekt, from the SPS for its work as an advertising agent to the Russian electoral commission.
In his blog posted on Monday, Navalny claimed that the new case was fabricated by the Investigative Committee, which had earlier this month formally charged him with money laundering and defrauding a transport company of 55 million rubles ($1.8 million).
Navalny's brother Oleg has also been charged in that case for allegedly helping the Opposition to set up a shipping company and delivering only $1 million worth of goods on an $1.8 million bill. Navalny had rejected those charges as politically motivated as well as "complete nonsense." He, however, faces a prison term of up to three years if convicted in the case.
Besides, Navalny was formally charged earlier this year with embezzlement in connection with an old case that was earlier investigated and dismissed by regional prosecutors. In that case, the Investigative Committee accused Navalny of orchestrating a scheme in 2009 to steal assets from a state-owned timber company while acting as an unofficial adviser to the Kirov regional government.
The deal led to a loss of 1.3 million rubles ($40,000) to the regional budget. Although Navalny, who at that time was acting as an adviser to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh, was investigated by local authorities in connection with the loss-making deal, he was later cleared of any wrongdoings.
Nevertheless, Navalny is now accused of misleading the local Governor and colluding with the heads of the two companies involved in the deal to organize the theft of timber worth 16 million rubles ($500,000). Although Navalny is not accused of profiting personally in the case, he still faces between five and ten years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Navalny, a trained lawyer, had led massive protests in Moscow this winter against then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The mass protests were against Putin's plans to run for presidency for a third time in the March presidential elections. Nevertheless, Putin won the elections.
Putin was Russia's President between 2000 and 2008, when he was forced to stand down by the Constitution. He later became Prime Minister after ushering in his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev as President. Medvedev is currently Russia's Prime Minister.
Since his inauguration as Russian President in May, Putin has signed a tough new law on public order offenses and enforced tight curbs on internationally-funded Russian non-governmental organizations. Many believe the developments are part of Kremlin's latest efforts at Suppressing dissent.
by RTT Staff Writer
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