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Pyotr Ofitserov: The Man Who Stood Beside Navalny To The Bitter End

  • Robert Coalson

Pyotr Ofitserov embraces his wife after the announcement of the verdict in Kirov on July 18.

Pyotr Ofitserov embraces his wife after the announcement of the verdict in Kirov on July 18.

Opposition politician and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny got all the press during the nearly four months of his trial. But he was not alone in the dock, as he took pains to point out during his closing remarks on July 5.

"First, I would like to take this opportunity to ask forgiveness from Pyotr Ofitserov and his family for what they had to go through because of me," Navalny said.

"They were completely randomly caught up like hostages and now are going through all of this because it was necessary to connect me with someone," he added. "You can't just take one person and put them in prison for some sort of economic crime. You need some entrepreneur, and that entrepreneur turned out to be Pyotr Ofitserov."

Navalny asked the court and prosecutors to show mercy to the 38-year-old Ofitserov and his five young children.

That plea fell on deaf ears, as Judge Sergei Blinov sentenced Ofitserov to four years in prison and a 500,000 ruble ($15,400) fine. Navalny's sentence was greater -- five years in prison -- because he was found to have been the "organizer" of a conspiracy to embezzle with Ofitserov.

Both men deny the allegations against them and say the whole case is politically motivated because of Navalny's opposition activities.

Who Is Pyotr Ofitserov?

Ofitserov was born in 1975 in the Soviet republic of Kirghizia (now known as Kyrgyzstan). When he was about 6 his family moved to the Russian Far Eastern region of Chukotka, where he attended school. In 1991, the family participated in a program to resettle people from the Far East and relocated to Kaluga Oblast in western Russia.

In 1996, he married his wife, Lidia, who already had one son. Their first daughter was born shortly after the wedding. They eventually had two more sons and another daughter. According to a profile in "The New Times," Ofitserov regularly writes poems to Lidia that only she reads.

Ofitserov, Lidia, and the children later moved into the three-room apartment of Lidia's parents on the outskirts of Moscow, where the family lives to this day. In the early days, he scraped together a living selling real estate and working as a security guard.

In 2000, he joined the liberal Yabloko party and participated actively in their unsuccessful 2003 legislative campaign. It was during this time that he met fellow Yabloko member Navalny, who quit the party in 2008 after a dispute with its leadership.

After Yabloko failed to win any seats in the Duma in 2003, Ofitserov stopped working for the party, although he remains a member.

During this time Ofitserov was studying business, earning a diploma in management and marketing. In 2006, he started his first business in sales-management consulting. He is the author of three books on marketing.

'Papa, What Did You Do?'

In 2009, liberal Kirov Oblast Governor Nikita Belykh issued an open invitation to businesspeople to open up shop in the region, about 760 kilometers east of Moscow, and promised them a favorable business environment. Navalny was working as an adviser to Belykh at the time.

Ofitserov responded to Belykh's initiative and founded a wood-processing company called Vyatskaya Lesnaya Kompania (VLK). According to Russian prosecutors, Navalny "organized" a corrupt deal under which VLK purchased timber from a state-owned company called Kirovles for less than market rates.

The main prosecution witness in the case was former Kirovles Director Vyacheslav Opalev. In 2012, Opalev was convicted of conspiring with Navalny to defraud Kirovles and was given a suspended prison sentence after agreeing to testify against Navalny and Ofitserov.

Opalev and Navalny also have a contentious history.

When Navalny was serving as Belykh's adviser in 2009, he recommended that Opalev be fired as director of Kirovles and investigated for corruption. The state-owned company had run up 200 million rubles ($6 million) in losses before Navalny arrived in the region.

In his closing remarks on July 5, Ofitserov said his friends had asked him repeatedly why he didn't make a deal with prosecutors similar to the one that Opalev made.

"I value my freedom. I value my reputation. I value all the things I have worked for. But there are things that cannot be done. There are things that -- once you do them -- cut you off from people forever," Ofitserov said.

"I have five children -- three sons and two daughters. I know that if I made a deal they would need me and that would be great. But, you know, when they grow up, they will ask: 'Papa, what happened? What did you do?'"
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