Russian court upholds guilty verdict of opposition leader

Alexei Navalny, left, at Kirovs Leninsky District Court. Picture: Getty Images

A Russian court has found opposition leader Alexei Navalny guilty in the retrial of a 2013 fraud case, which disqualifies him as a candidate for president next year.

However, an associate said Navalny will carry on with the campaign he announced he would run in December.

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In a webcast hearing, Judge Alexei Vtyurin found Navalny guilty of embezzling timber worth about $270,000 (£215,000).

The previous guilty verdict was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Russia violated Navalny’s right to a fair trial.

The judge has yet to give a sentence in the trial held in Kirov, a city nearly 500 miles east of Moscow.

During a break in the proceedings, Navalny told reporters that he and his lawyers were comparing this verdict with the text of the 2013 verdict and found them to be identical.

“You can come over and see that the judge is reading exactly the same text, which says a lot about the whole trial,” Navalny told reporters, adding that even the typos in the names of companies were identical in both rulings.

Navalny, the driving force behind anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012, had begun to raise funds for his presidential campaign.

Navalny’s campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, insisted that the campaign goes on even though the guilty verdict formally bars Navalny from running.

In a post on Facebook, Mr Volkov said that the Kremlin will ultimately decide whether Navalny will be confirmed as a presidential candidate.

“This is the political decision we need to win by campaigning,” he said.

Navalny’s plans to run in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election were shattered when the Kirov court found him guilty and sent him to prison.

But after he spent a night in jail, the court held an emergency hearing and released him on a suspended sentence. The unusual move was seen by observers as the Kremlin’s decision to allow him to run against its candidate in the mayoral race in order to make it look more legitimate.

Navalny, 40, came second, garnering about a third of the vote.

He is known for his anti-corruption campaign, which targeted senior officials close to the Kremlin. He says the case against him is an effort to keep him out of politics.

He had recently stepped up his political activity after announcing plans last year to run for the presidency in 2018.

President Vladimir Putin is allowed by the constitution to run for a second consecutive six-year term, but he has not said yet if he plans to do so.

Navalny’s rise as a force in Russian politics began in 2008 when he started blogging about alleged malpractice and corruption at some of Russia’s big state-controlled corporations.

Valery Solovei, a political analyst and professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said the verdict indicated that the Kremlin was not willing to risk a Navalny candidacy.

“This was discussed from the beginning, whether to allow him to run or not, and surely with Navalny, the campaign will be more lively,” Mr Solovei said.