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Russian blogger Alexei Navalny faces criminal investigation

12.05.2011 | www.guardian.co.uk

 

Prosecutors in Moscow have opened a criminal investigation into anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, in what the blogger said was revenge for his exposés of alleged fraud at Russian state companies.

The investigative committee said the activist was suspected of "inflicting material damage by means of deceit" when, as an adviser to a regional governor, he urged the head of a timber company called Kirovles to close a deal which allegedly lost the business 1.3m roubles (£29, 000).

While there is no suggestion that Navalny benefited financially, if convicted he could face up to five years in jail.

The 34-year-old lawyer said the accusation was a fabrication by the security services to punish him for allegations that $4bn (2.5bn) has been siphoned off from oil firm Transneft and of murky dealings at state bank VTB.

"We’ll see what happens, " Navalny blogged. "Even the most Basmanny court in the world could hardly bring a verdict on such rubbish, clumsily made up by policemen."

Basmanny is the court which began the prosecution of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, jailed for nine years in 2005.

Two years ago Navalny began a crusade to expose embezzlement of public funds by bureaucrats and their business allies. He took minority shareholdings in large state companies to seek transparency over their opaque ownership structures and used court appeals to highlight questionable transactions.

In December he set up a website called RosPil, from the Russian word "pilit", which means "to saw" or figuratively "to saw off" cash. The site publicises government tenders it considers to be suspect such as a regional minister’s recent request for a £190, 000 Audi saloon.

Navalny provoked special ire earlier this year when he called UnitedRussia, the dominant political party headed by the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, a "party of swindlers and cheats", a nickname that spread like wildfire through young liberals dissatisfied with the country’s ruling elite.

Prosecutors said Navalny was being investigated on suspicion of convincing Vyacheslav Opalev, the general director of Kirovles, to strike a disadvantageous deal with another timber company. The alleged incident took place in 2009, when Navalny was advising Nikita Belykh, a former opposition politician who accepted the Kremlin’s offer to became governor of Kirov region near Moscow.

Belykh said he considered the accusation levelled at the activist was "unfounded".

Navalny has already complained of pressure from the authorities. Earlier this month, it emerged that the federal security service had forced Yandex, an internet search engine which runs an online money transfer system, to disclose details of people who gave money to RosPil.

Some donors received phone calls from an activist linked to the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group who posed as a journalist and asked why they had given the money.

RosPil has received an estimated 6.7m roubles in donations since February.

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