Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office says it has found evidence that the Moscow mayoral election campaign of outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny is illegally funded from abroad.
The office announced that last week's allegations by the parliament's Liberal Democratic faction regarding foreign funding of Navalny's campaign have been confirmed.
According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, more than 300 named foreign donors and also anonymous donors from 46 countries gave money to Navalny and his campaign chiefs using a Russia-based Internet payment system called Yandex.Money.
The Prosecutor-General's Office has turned over its findings to investigators, who could open a criminal case.
Navalny's election campaign chief Leonid Volkov said on August 12 that the campaign account "has not received a single donation from a foreign individual."
In a telephone interview with Dozhd TV in Moscow, Navalny also denied the allegations, saying the Prosecutor-General's Office has just made up the case.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
"It is absolutely clear to us why this happened: All polls now suggest that a runoff election is practically inevitable," Navalny said. "We understand that the Kremlin and [acting Moscow Mayor Sergei] Sobyanin are in panic and they fear a runoff election, so it was just a matter of what kind of reason they would cook up to start yet another wave of negative news on national television."
Yandex.Money spokeswoman Asya Melkumova told journalists that the Prosecutor-General's Office had never officially contacted the company regarding the financing of Navalny's election campaign.
Melkumova added that although it is possible to identify the country from which money was sent to Navalny's campaign, it is impossible to immediately know the nationality of those who made the transfers.
Navalny pointed out on his blog on August 12 that millions of Russians are abroad on holiday and said hundreds of thousands of Internet users inside the Russian Federation use foreign IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.
In a blog post last week, Navalny questioned how Sobyanin's teenage daughter could afford to own a $5.27 million Moscow apartment.
Sobyanin's press secretary told journalists that the apartment was given to Sobyanin by the presidential office in 2006 and later privatized.
Sobyanin is widely expected to win a new term as Moscow mayor and maintain control of the city's $50 billion budget.
Sobyanin's refusal on August 10 to take part in televised debates with the other candidates has sparked doubts about the fairness of the polls scheduled for September 8. The first televised debates are scheduled for August 12.
Last month, Navalny was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for the embezzlement of about $500,000 in a timber deal in Kirov Oblast. Navalny, who denies the charges, says the case is politically motivated. After his sentencing, he was released and allowed to compete in the election while he appeals his conviction.
Navalny gained prominence for his blogs targeting government corruption. He was the first to refer to President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party as "the party of swindlers and thieves," a phrase that has become a common refrain at opposition rallies.
With reporting by AFP, RIA Novosti, tvrain.ru, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS