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Navalny Questions Witness In Embezzlement Trial

  • RFE/RL's Russian Service

Russian opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny attends the hearing of his case in a court in the northern Russian city of Kirov on April 25.

Russian opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny attends the hearing of his case in a court in the northern Russian city of Kirov on April 25.

Anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny and his defense lawyers have been questioning a key government witness in the embezzlement case against him.

The testimony came on the third day of Navalny's trial in the central Russian city of Kirov on charges that he helped steal around $510,000 worth of timber. Navalny faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Navalny and his lawyers cross-examined Vyacheslav Opalev, the former general director of Kirovles, the company that allegedly suffered the loss.

Opalev repeatedly answered defense questions by saying he did not remember and by referring to his pretrial affidavit. However, he was confident of one thing.

"[Navalny] had only one desire -- to bankrupt the company. That I remember," he said.

Prosecutors read Opalev's affidavit to the court in full and repeated parts of it three times.

Opalev testified that he had been forced by Navalny to participate in the deal, but in his affidavit he said he had colluded with Navalny to carry out the alleged fraud.

Opalev told the court on April 25 that any contradictions in his testimony were due to fatigue and stress.

Navalny, a lawyer, questioned Opalev personally, asking for details about Kirovles's business operations and contracts. Navalny said in court that Opalev's affidavit had been dictated by prosecutors.

Opalev received a four-year suspended sentence in December after pleading guilty to conspiring with Navalny in the embezzlement.

On April 24, Judge Sergei Blinov rejected defense motions that he recuse himself as not impartial, that he return the case to investigators because of procedural violations, and that he postpone the trial to give defense lawyers more time to read the many volumes of case materials.

Navalny is a vocal opponent of President Vladimir Putin and he has said he would be interested in running for president.

He has also said that if he gained power, he would initiate corruption cases against Putin and others in Russia's ruling circles.

Navalny maintains that the case against him is politically motivated and was fabricated in order to block his opposition activities.

With reporting by AP
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