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New trial against Putin’s main adversary

Alexei Navalni, a Russian lawyer and opposition leader, a few days after being released following his arrest in 2012. / Reuters

From today Tuesday Alexéi Navalni is on the bench for fraud and contempt

The main political opponent of the Kremlin, Alexei Navalny, faces a new trial today. This time he is accused of “fraud” and “disrespect.” The Lefórtovo court in Moscow is the one that judges him for both crimes, but the hearing takes place by videoconference from Prison Colony number 2 in the town of Pokrov, in the Vladimir region near Moscow. That is where Navalni has already been held for a year with a sentence of two and a half years in prison for another cause.

The one that is now judged under the accusation of “fraud” incriminates him for having allegedly seized in a personal capacity the donations (350 million rubles, about four million euros) that his organization received, the Foundation for the Fight against Corruption ( FBK) now dissolved. The “disrespect” refers to Navalni’s alleged “offenses” to the prosecutor and the judge, whom he ridiculed for his “poor legal knowledge” during a trial for defaming a war veteran. The first case began in December 2020 and the second in May 2021.

The judicial authority did not explain today the reason why it has been decided to hold the trial in prison instead of transferring Navalni to the Lefortovo courtroom. His entourage believes the goal is to complicate coverage of the trial for the press, who have to follow him through a screen in a separate building. The opposition leader, whose wife Julia has been authorized to attend the hearing directly at the prison, has requested to appear in civilian clothing, not in prison uniform, but has been denied.

If found guilty of both crimes, he could be sentenced to an additional 16 years in prison, 10 for the misappropriation of funds and 6 for the offences. Last month, Navalni was included in the list of “terrorists and extremists”, which will lead to new charges and more trials. Last September, the Russian Instruction Committee (SK in its acronym in Russian) announced the initiation of a criminal case against the opposition leader for creating and leading an “extremist organization whose objective was to discredit the state authorities and their policies (…) and promote a transfer of power by violent means».

After recovering in Germany from the poisoning suffered in August 2020 in Omsk (Siberia), Navalni returned to Moscow on January 17 last year and was arrested as soon as he set foot at the airport. It turns out that he and his brother were found guilty in 2014 of “fraud and money laundering” in a case related to the French firm Yves Rocher. They were sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

That sentence was suspended, but in February 2021 the Simonovsky court in Moscow decided to lift the suspension and send Navalni to jail. And this despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) branded that sentence as “politically motivated”.

Putin’s adversary was also sentenced last year to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles (almost 10,000 euros) for defamation “against a 95-year-old World War II veteran, whom he criticized for participating in an advertisement in support of the constitutional reforms that Putin promoted in 2020 to continue two more terms at the head of Russia.

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