MOSCOW — Prominent anti-graft activist Aleksei Navalny says he has no intention of leaving Russia to avoid potential criminal charges and intends to defend himself vigorously if charged.
In an interview with RFE/RL, the lawyer and blogger described the corruption allegations against him as a “fabrication.”
For the third time since 2009, Russian prosecutors have reopened a criminal investigation against Navalny, whose campaign against corruption by officials and state companies has made him a cause celebre among Russian Internet users.
Navalny noted he wasn’t surprised by the investigation, saying fabricated charges are an occupational hazard for many social activists in Russia.
“It is an inescapable risk — it’s not even a risk but a fact of life for any person who carries out independent civil and political work, and even more so for someone conducting investigations,” Navalny said. “I understood this risk from the very beginning.”
But Navalny told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that he would not leave the country and was ready to face his accusers. He said if he did leave, his work would lose its legitimacy. Navalny encourages his followers to post their corruption findings on his RosPil website by drawing attention to suspicious looking state tenders.
“I’m not going to leave the country,” Navalny said. “If I did, then there would be no sense in what I am doing. People will only believe you if you share the same risks that they face. I can’t persuade people in Bryansk to follow me if I’m sitting in London, can I?”
Prosecutors have said that that charges against Navalny, if they are filed, could carry a two-year prison sentence.
Navalny is being investigated for allegedly imparting bad advice while working as an aide to a Russian governor that led to a state-owned timber company incurring 1.3 million rubles in losses.
The allegations date back to 2009 and are seen by Navalny and leading bloggers as revenge by one of the major state companies targeted by Navalny’s anticorruption campaign.
Navalny said he is unsure which company is responsible but said that the case’s first appearance coincided with his expose of corruption in state-owned oil company Transneft.
“At the moment, it is difficult to say who exactly is driving this case,” Navalny said. “I think the case first cropped up thanks to the efforts of the security services of VTB [bank] and Transneft. Probably it was to a greater degree thanks to Transneft because the first announcement that the case had been launched came two weeks after I published documents about corruption in Transneft.”
In November 2010, Navalny posted documents obtained through his position as a minority stakeholder in Transneft that purported to show that over $4 billion had been siphoned from the oil company.
“But it’s difficult to say [who is responsible],” he added. “I already have too many enemies.”
The reopened investigation comes a week after the FSB security service was found to have collected the personal details of donors to RosPil and only a month after both RosPil and Navalny’s LiveJournal account were targeted by a sustained denial-of-service attack.
RFE/RL’s Russian Service contributed to this report