independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Russian opposition leader charged

Police officers detained Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during an unauthorised rally (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

A prominent Russian opposition activist has been charged with fraud and money laundering, the latest casualty in a crackdown on President Vladimir Putin's opponents.

Alexei Navalny, a lawyer who made his name exposing rampant corruption in state-controlled companies, spearheaded a series of street rallies in Moscow that drew up to 100,000 people and followed last December's fraud-tainted parliamentary vote.

The federal Investigative Committee, Russia's top investigation agency, said that Navalny and his brother Oleg are accused of defrauding a transportation company by overcharging it for postal services.

Alexei Navalny, 36, said in a tweet apparently meant to be sarcastic that the charges are "the end of me." He has said earlier that the charges are a reprisal for his efforts to mobilise opposition to Mr Putin.

Mr Putin won a third stint in the presidency earlier this year, and in the months since, the Kremlin has pushed through a host of laws aimed at undermining the opposition movement, while also pursuing court cases against many leading dissidents and average protesters.

Investigators have accused several other opposition leaders, including prominent left-wing activist Sergei Udaltsov, of plotting a coup financed and inspired by authorities in the country of Georgia.

Leonid Razvozzhayev, an activist with Mr Udaltsov's Left Front group claimed Russian security officers kidnapped him in Ukraine in October, tortured for two days and forced him to sign a false confession, which he later retracted.

But prosecutors say Mr Razvozzhayev turned himself in and deny the allegations of torture. He was arrested as part of a 15-year-old investigation into the theft of 500 fur hats in Siberia.

A Moscow court in November sentenced an opposition activist to four and a half years in jail for allegedly assaulting police at a massive anti-Putin rally - despite his guilty plea and his testimony against other protesters.

Eighteen other rally participants face similar charges and are standing trial.

Press Association

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