MOSCOW, January 18 (RIA Novosti) - Final charges in a grand embezzlement case have been brought against Russian opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, the Investigative Committee said on Friday.
Navalny has refused to testify, committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said, adding the investigation into the case “is nearing completion.”
Navalny has been charged with “organizing embezzlement on a grand scale” and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Final charges of complicity in grand embezzlement have also been filed against Pyotr Ofitserov, director of the Vyatskaya Lesnaya Kompania [Vyatka Timber Company], Markin said.
“Ofitserov has refused to admit his guilt,” he said.
Navalny said in his LiveJournal blog on Friday that “the final charge little differs from the previous one.”
“It’s like, a criminal joint-stock company led by Navalny’s associate bought 14.5 million rubles worth of timber and sold it for 16 million, thus embezzling 16 million,” he wrote, adding that he was currently studying the case files.
He previously said the figure of 16 million rubles (around $530,000) was plucked out of thin air, as the investigators offered no explanation of where that number came from.
Navalny, a corruption-fighting lawyer, is suspected of coercing the state-run Kirovles timber company in the Kirov Region into a loss-making deal when he was a pro bono advisor to Governor Nikita Belykh in 2009.
The case was dropped by regional investigators last April, but reopened in July on orders from Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin.
The move came shortly after Navalny accused Bastrykin of professional misconduct, including threatening a Novaya Gazeta journalist in June. He also accused the country’s chief investigator of fraud and corruption, as well as of being a “foreign agent.” Navalny also alleged that Bastrykin had concealed real estate and business interests in the Czech Republic and held EU residency while enjoying access to state secrets.
Navalny, the founder of the anti-graft website Rospil and shareholder rights campaigner, has in the past few years sought to obtain documents via court rulings from a number of state-run companies, in a bid to make their activities transparent. As a minority shareholder in state-run oil major Rosneft, Navalny attempted to get the company’s minutes of board meetings for 2009, and also copies of agreements on crude oil supplies to China.
Navalny has also been a leading figure in the protest movement which emerged in Russia after last year's parliamentary elections. Rosneft President Igor Sechin has accused Navalny of working for London-based Hermitage Capital, the company at the center of the Magnitsky scandal, a charge he denied.
In mid-December Navalny said investigators had officially notified him about a second criminal case against him.
Investigators said a criminal case had been opened against Navalny and his brother Oleg on charges of defrauding an unspecified firm out of 55 million rubles ($1.8 million) in phony shipping charges.
Investigators believe that about 19 million rubles of the allegedly embezzled sum was laundered through a wicker-weaving plant co-founded by the Navalny brothers and their father.
If found guilty, the two brothers face a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison in relation to those charges.
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Some people are trying to make the reality in Russia at least a bit more humane. The amnesty should apply not only to persons involved in high-profile cases, but also to individuals who are not as well-known. It is better to set free at least some of the individuals who deserve to be released than no one at all.