Russian Protest Leader Navalny Faces New Criminal Charges

MOSCOW, December 24 (RIA Novosti) – Russian investigators opened a criminal case on Monday against leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is already facing jail time over two separate allegations of fraud.

The Investigation Committee said on its website that Navalny – the figurehead of the year-long protests against President Vladimir Putin – embezzled 100 million rubles ($3.25 million) from the Union of Right Forces, a pro-business political party, in 2007.

“Another criminal case against me,” Navalny wrote on Twitter. “Investigation Committee, what are you doing? Enough.”

The charges relate to an advertising contract signed between Allekt – which Navalny headed in 2007 – and the Union of Right Forces. Investigators say the party paid Allekt about 100 million rubles, but the company transferred the funds to suspected front companies without keeping its side of the agreement.

“No one has provided any documents to the investigation proving that the contract was implemented,” the Investigation Committee said. The charge carries a maximum of ten years in prison and/or a fine of 1 million rubles ($32,500).

But the former deputy chairman of the Union of Right Forces, Leonid Gozman, said that the party leadership was unaware of any such theft from their funds.

“If there had really been anything like that, I would have known about it,” Gozman told RIA Novosti.

Navalny’s lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, said he had only learned about the new case from news reports and could not immediately comment. Kobzev told RIA Novosti earlier this year that he believed the authorities were seeking to “remove” Navalny from the political scene.

This is the third case opened against Navalny in less than six months.

Last week, investigators opened a case 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.

In another case he is accused of misappropriating state-owned timber worth 16 million rubles during his tenure as an unpaid advisor to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh, who chaired the Union of Right Forces until it was dissolved in 2008.

Navalny faces up to 10 years behind bars under each of the charges.

A number of prominent opposition figures have been hit by criminal charges or jail time since Putin returned to the Kremlin amid violent protests in May. But Putin has denied a crackdown on dissent in underway, saying “everyone” must comply with the law.

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