MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia can seize assets of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, a Moscow court ruled on Tuesday, in connection with embezzlement charges that the activist says is an attempt by the authorities to intimidate opponents.
Under charges filed by the federal Investigative Committee last month, Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg face up to 10 years in jail for theft and money laundering. No date for the trial has yet been set.
In a separate case, a Russian court handed Navalny, 37, a suspended five-year sentence for theft in September.
“Today the court allowed the seizure of property,” a spokeswoman for the court said. She said it was up to federal investigators to decide if and when to enforce the ruling.
Navalny has called the new charges an attempt to “terrorize” those who displease the authorities.
He wrote on his blog on Tuesday: “I have no idea what property they’ve seized. They didn’t invite me to the court when they decided the issue.”
Navalny, who has campaigned online against corruption among Russia’s ruling elite, helped lead a wave of protests after allegations of fraud in the December 2011 parliamentary election won by Putin’s ruling party.
Investigators have accused the Navalny brothers of defrauding a Russian branch of the French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher of 26 million roubles ($814,600), and a cargo delivery firm, the Glavnoye Podpisnoye Agentstvo, of 4 million roubles. Navalny has called the charges “absolute nonsense”.
He was convicted in July of organizing the theft of 16 million roubles from a timber firm in the Kirov region in 2009, after a trial he described as Putin’s revenge for challenging the Kremlin. He was unexpectedly freed while awaiting an appeal hearing, allowing him to run in Moscow’s mayoral election, where he posted a strong second place against an ally of Putin.
Navalny’s assets on a pre-election declaration included a third of a 78.5-square-metre apartment, a 2004-model Hyundai car, a Russian-made Lada car, a bank account holding 2.7 million roubles ($82,400) and shares in several companies.
The Council of Europe on Tuesday said Russian judges were not fully independent and Putin should reform the judicial system, long criticized as subject to political interference and an obstacle to foreign investment.
The report by Europe’s human rights body follows international criticism of Putin over the conviction of opponents, including Navalny and members of the Pussy Riot protest group.
Reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Ludmila Danilova; Editing by Janet Lawrence