Protest leader Alexei Navalny has accused Russian authorities of fabricating charges against him at the start of a trial he says is intended to crush opposition to Vladimir Putin.
The anti-corruption blogger, 36, made a 40-minute appearance in court in the city of Kirov before Judge Sergei Blinov adjourned proceedings until 24 April to give the defence more time to prepare its case.
Navalny could face ten years in jail if convicted of stealing 16 million roubles (£335,000) from a timber firm in Kirov that he was advising in 2009 while working for the liberal regional governor. Navalny, Russia’s best-known opposition figure, has suggested Mr Putin ordered the trial to sideline him as a potential presidential rival.
“The case is totally falsified, trumped up. I am completely innocent,” he said in court.
Navalny has been a thorn in the side of the Kremlin since starting to campaign online against state corruption in 2007. He established himself as a powerful speaker at anti-Putin demonstrations that flared 16 months ago.
The Kremlin sees little risk in making an example of Navalny to discourage dissent as Mr Putin’s conservative support base are either indifferent or likely to welcome a jail sentence for Navalny.