Russia opens new investigation against protest leader Navalny

MOSCOW Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:47am EDT

Russian opposition leader and anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny (C) leaves after a court hearing in the city of Kirov April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russian opposition leader and anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny (C) leaves after a court hearing in the city of Kirov April 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian investigators increased pressure on one of President Vladimir Putin's biggest critics on Thursday, opening a new criminal investigation against Alexei Navalny one day after he went on trial on theft charges.

Navalny, who has helped organize protests against Putin and is a campaigner against state corruption, denies any wrongdoing and says charges are being falsified against him as part of a Kremlin campaign to crush the opposition.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which answers directly to Putin, said Navalny and his brother Oleg were suspected of defrauding a company out of 3.8 million roubles ($120,000) by organizing mail transport for them at excessive prices in 2008.

Navalny reacted wryly to the announcement of the new investigation on his Twitter feed as he travelled back to Moscow by train after going on trial on Wednesday on the earlier charges of theft in the provincial city of Kirov.

"I woke up on the train. I found out that another criminal case has been launched. That means our trip was successful," he wrote.

Navalny, 36, already faces up to 10 years in jail in the trial that opened on Wednesday if he is convicted of stealing a about $510,000 from a timber firm he was advising in Kirov in 2009. The trial has been adjourned until April 24.

The most prominent opposition leader to be tried in post-Soviet Russia, Navalny says he believes Putin has ordered the investigations and trial against him to sideline him as a potential presidential rival.

The Kremlin denies putting pressure on the courts and says Putin does not use them for political ends.

(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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