October 29, 2013 6:53 pm

Fresh charges for Russia opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny sp©AFP

Russia’s powerful investigative committee has filed fresh charges of embezzlement and money laundering against Alexei Navalny, just two weeks after an appeals court suspended the opposition leader’s five-year prison sentence.

The charges, filed on Tuesday, appear to signal a continuing tug-of-war over Mr Navalny’s fate within the political elite.

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Over the past year, Russia’s investigative committee, roughly equivalent to the US FBI, has opened five criminal cases into Mr Navalny. The new charges allege that Mr Navalny and his brother Oleg defrauded a Russian subsidiary of Yves Rocher, the French cosmetics company, of Rb26m ($810,000) and a Russian cargo delivery company of Rb4m.

Investigators also charged the brothers with laundering more than Rbs21m, a crime that carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Addressing the new charges on his blog on Tuesday evening, Mr Navalny said: “In a sense [the news] is very good. We are doing everything right and they are scared.”

Once largely known as an anti-corruption blogger, Mr Navalny has transformed himself into a serious political contender in recent months, either in spite of, or thanks to, the growing number of criminal charges against him.

In July, when a court in the city of Kirov, 800km from Moscow, handed Mr Navalny a five-year jail sentence for embezzling Rbs16m from a state timber company, thousands of Muscovites took to the street. A day later Mr Navalny was released and allowed to participate in Moscow’s September mayoral election where he garnered 27 per cent of the vote.

In a sense [the news] is very good. We are doing everything right and they are scared

- Alexei Navalny

The results widely surpassed pollsters’ projections which predicted Mr Navalny garnering well under 20 per cent, and were remarkably strong given his lack of access to state-run media and the short timeline he had to conduct the campaign.

In October, following the election, a Kirov appeals court converted Mr Navalny’s prison sentence into a suspended sentence, allowing Mr Navalny to remain free but preventing him from seeking political office during the duration of the sentence. While Russian law does not allow candidates convicted of serious crimes to run for office, some analysts said it was unclear if this would apply to Mr Navalny as the sentence had been suspended.

Mr Navalny called the new charges a continuation of the “absurd” Kirov conviction where prosecutors had confusingly alleged that he had not only embezzled Rbs16m but also stole the timber itself.

“Initially the [Kirov case] was thought up to intimidate and so that they had a head start [against me],” Mr Navalny told Russian newswire Interfax. “The case looked absurd so they needed to have a second absurd case to be safe in case the first case fell apart.”

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