Russia's lower house of parliament may pave the way for the prosecution of the only member who voted against the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year.
Authorities say Ilya Ponomaryov, one of a very few opposition lawmakers in the State Duma, is suspected of embezzling money earmarked for Skolkovo, an innovation hub project outside Moscow that aims to create a Russian rival to the U.S. tech hotbed region the Silicon Valley.
Duma spokesman Yury Shuvalov told reporters on March 26 that the chamber's speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, received an official request from the Prosecutor General's Office to strip Ponomaryov of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
The Duma is to consider the issue on April 6.
The March 2014 takeover of Crimea, which sparked a deep crisis in relations between Moscow and the West, was portrayed by the Kremlin as a patriotic mission to restore control over what President Vladimir Putin calls historically Russian land and was highly popular with the public.
Living In The U.S.
In addition to opposing the annexation, the 39-year-old Ponomaryov was also a prominent organizer and speaker at mass rallies against Putin's return to the presidency in 2012 after four years as prime minister.
Ponomaryov has been living in the United States since last year, saying he was forced to leave after being accused in a civil suit for 2.7 million rubles ($47,000 at the current rate) for failing to deliver the agreed number of lectures at Skolkovo, a high-tech hub promoted in 2009 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, who is now prime minister.
Following futile attempts to appeal the ruling, Ponomaryov began to pay down the debt.
Ponomaryov says he has to stay in the United States as he is unable to return because his accounts and assets have been frozen over the Skolkovo Foundation case and he was barred from crossing back into Russia.
He says the embezzlement allegations are politically motivated.
Ekho Moskvy radio quoted him as saying he does not plan to return to Russia while under threat of prosecution.
"What's the point of just voluntarily going to prison?" he was quoted as saying.
Based on reporting by Ekho Moskvy, AP, AFP, TASS, Interfax, and RIA