Putin rival barred from election after conviction
A Russian court has found the opposition activist Alexey Navalny guilty of embezzlement, in a verdict that prevents him from standing against Vladimir Putin at next year's presidential election.
In a hearing in the city of Kirov yesterday, Judge Alexei Vtyurin found Navalny guilty of embezzling timber worth 16 million rubles (about €250,000).
Judge Vtyurin sentenced Navalny to five years probation. His co-defendant, Petr Ofitserov, received four years probation. Navalny, who denied the allegations, was first convicted of fraud in connection with a timber firm called KirovLes in 2013.
The case was heard again after the European Court of Human Rights said he was not given a fair hearing at the first trial.
Navalny and his supporters said the charges were politically motivated and the conviction designed to keep him off the ballot at the presidential elections in 2018.
Russian law forbids convicted criminals serving a sentence from standing for office.
"As we've said before: despite the guilty verdict, the campaign for Navalny to stand in the elections continues. It will achieve victory," Leonid Volkov, a close adviser to Navalny, wrote on Twitter after the verdict was read out.
"If you too dislike judges who word-for-word repeat verdicts that have already been found illegal and overturned, come here," he said in a tweet with a link to the campaign's website.
Navalny, a bitter critic of Mr Putin who led a series of anti-Kremlin protests in 2011 and 2012, announced his bid for the Kremlin in December last year.
Mr Putin is widely expected to win a fourth term as president of Russia at elections next year, although he has not yet announced whether he will run.
Many of Navalny's supporters hoped the Kremlin would calculate that allowing a genuine opposition figure to stand would lend greater legitimacy to Mr Putin's eventual victory than a race against the increasingly elderly and ineffective leaders of "systemic" opposition parties.
Yesterday's verdict will be widely seen as a signal that the authorities have decided not to take that risk, although some opposition activists have expressed hope the decision could later be reversed.
In 2013, Navalny's conviction in a separate case was unexpectedly over-turned and sent for retrial in what was widely seen as a decision to lend legitimacy to the election for mayor of Moscow.
Navalny stood in the election after the court decision and came second against Sergei Sobyanin, the Kremlin-backed candidate.