MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny waves as he walks for the questioning in Moscow. AP photo
Russian investigators yesterday charged popular anti-Kremlin protest leader Alexei Navalny with embezzlement in an old case whose resumption this month may put him behind bars for up to 10 years.
The Investigative Committee said in a statement that Navalny would also be barred from leaving Moscow during a probe into the opposition leader’s time as an unofficial adviser to a small deal struck by a regional government in 2009.
The investigators pressed two counts against Navalny that include “misappropriation or embezzlement... committed by an organised group or on an especially large scale.” The charged carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years.
“Something absolutely absurd and very strange has happened because they have completely changed the story behind the charge,” Navalny told reporters after coming out of the court room.
The case concerns a contract that Navalny alleged urged a local state-owned timber firm to conclude with another company that resulted in a loss of 1.3 million rubles ($40,000) to the local budget in 2009-2010.
Navalny was not accused of profiting personally in the case but misleading the local governor whom he advised on an informal basis.
Central Kirov region Governor Nikita Belykh has dismissed the case as a form of political pressure and stressed that local investigators had long concluded that Navalny had committed no crime.