MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic said on Tuesday he had been served with new theft and money laundering charges, describing them as a part of an attempt to “terrorize” those who displease authorities.
Under the charges filed by the federal Investigative Committee, Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg face up to ten years jail. In a separate case, a Russian court handed Navalny, 37, a suspended five-year sentence for theft last month.
“I understand the logic of the authorities. They try to show everyone that if they do something not quite as they want, then we will terrorize you,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio.
“It is absolute nonsense when the commercial activity that my brother led over three years without any complaints against him, are suddenly announced to be fraud.”
Investigators accused the Navalny brothers of defrauding a Russian filial of French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher out of 26 million roubles ($814,600) and a cargo delivery firm, the Glavnoye Podpisnoye Agentstvo, out of 4 million roubles. The Russian arm of Yves Rocher was not immediatelly available for comment. Russia is a major market for the French company.
A blogger who has campaigned online against corruption among Russia’s ruling elite, Navalny helped lead a wave of protests stirred by allegations of fraud in a December 2011 parliamentary election won by Putin’s ruling party.
He was convicted on July 18, 2013, of organising the theft of 16 million roubles ($500,000) from a timber firm in the Kirov region in 2009, after a trial he described as Putin’s revenge for challenging the Kremlin.
But he was unexpectedly freed while waiting for an appeal hearing, allowing him to run in Moscow mayoral polls where he posted a strong second place against a Putin ally.
On Tuesday, the Investigative Committee also accused the brothers of laundering some 21 million roubles in funds - charges that carry a two-year maximum sentence. Under Russian law, sentences for crimes cannot be added up.
($1 = 31.9180 Russian roubles)
Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Ralph Boulton