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A Russian court on Wednesday found Alexei Navalny guilty of embezzlement, a decision set to bar the country’s most popular opposition politician from challenging Vladimir Putin in presidential elections early next year.

The district court in the city of Kirov said Mr Navalny had organised defrauding state company Kirovles of timber worth more than $500,000.

The ruling is the latest in a long series of attempts at stopping the charismatic lawyer and anti-corruption blogger’s political career in the courts with what Mr Navalny, independent legal experts and foreign judges have dismissed as groundless charges.

The verdict follows a hasty retrial after Russia’s supreme court, in a surprise move, cancelled the original sentence late last year after the European Court of Human Rights had ruled Mr Navalny had not been given a fair trial.

The supreme court decision resulted in lifting a ban on running for elected office connected with the earlier criminal conviction – a window Mr Navalny used to declare his intention to run for president. However, a renewed conviction will bar him from officially registering his candidacy.

The prosecution has demanded a five year suspended sentence for Mr Navalny. The judge was expected to announce the sentence at the end of the ruling on Wednesday.

According to the record of Russian criminal courts, a guilty verdict is extremely unlikely to be overturned in appeal.

Photo: AP

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