Russia investigates protest leader for theft of party funds

Mon Dec 24, 2012 5:08am EST
 
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By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian authorities have opened a third criminal investigation into opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying on Monday that the critic of President Vladimir Putin is suspected of stealing millions of dollars from a political party in 2007.

Navalny, 36, the most prominent leader of large street protests that erupted last December against Putin's nearly 13-year rule, already faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted on existing charges of theft from a state timber company.

Earlier this month, investigators also charged Navalny and his brother of cheating a mail-transport company out of $1.79 million. That move followed a December15 opposition rally at a memorial to victims of Soviet-era repressions outside the headquarters of the FSB security service, formerly the KGB.

Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption blogger, denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations aired by the Investigative Committee, a federal agency that answers to Putin, are intended to persuade him to stop his opposition activities.

"Aie, aie, aie, yet another case against me. Investigative Committee, what are you doing? ... That's enough," Navalny tweeted minutes after the new investigation was announced.

The Interfax news agency quoted him as saying the charge was "absolutely absurd".

On its website, the Investigative Committee said it suspects an advertising company headed by Navalny stole up to 100 million roubles ($3.24 million) paid it by the liberal, pro-business Union of Right Forces Party (SPS) for campaign advertising.

It said there was evidence Navalny's company, Allekt, siphoned the money off into bank accounts of shell companies.   Continued...

 
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks during the first meeting of the Russian opposition Coordination Council in Moscow October 27, 2012. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin