MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian prosecutors said on Friday Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny should be imprisoned for 10 years for stealing 30 million rubles ($500,000) in a case dismissed by critics of President Vladimir Putin as part of his campaign to stifle dissent.
Navalny, who led mass protests against Putin three years ago, denies guilt, as does the other defendant in the case, his brother Oleg, for whom the prosecution is seeking eight years in jail.
“Life makes no sense if you have to tolerate endless lies. I will never accept this system, which is built on lies,” Alexei Navalny told the court of Putin’s 15-year rule over Russia.
“I will not stop my fight against this junta,” he said. “But there is no need to jail my brother for eight years. Taking hostages will not stop me.”
The brothers stand accused of stealing from two firms, including an affiliate of the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher between 2008 and 2012. The verdict is expected on Jan.15.
“The guilt of the defendants has been fully proven,” prosecutor Nadezhda Ignatova told the Moscow court.
She said the 10-year term would cover the current charges as well as an earlier conviction for embezzling 16 million rubles from a state timber company.
Navalny, a Western-educated anti-corruption blogger, sighed after the prosecutor spoke, saying: “At least it’s easy to count.”
Currently under house arrest, he is serving a suspended five-year jail term for the timber conviction last year, which Kremlin critics also call a sham. The Kremlin denies their allegations that it uses courts to persecute opponents.
Since the mass protests in Moscow at the turn of 2011 and 2012, the opposition has been largely marginalized, which Putin critics and rights activists blame on what they say is a Kremlin-sponsored campaign against them.
Putin has since enacted laws increasing punishment for protesters and tightening controls of the Internet, among others, measures denounced by critics as restrictive. Putin said they were needed to ensure state security and public order.
His popularity has been oscillating around record-highs this year driven by a combative patriotic sentiment after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
But an acute currency crisis developing towards the end of the year, partly linked to Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, threatens economic stability and poses a major headache for Putin. It also potentially boosts the case for his critics.
Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Additional reporting and writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Ralph Boulton