The governor of Russia's Kirov Oblast has cast doubt on embezzlement charges against opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny.
Navalny is accused of embezzling the equivalent of $510,000 from the "Kirovles" lumber company while he was working as the Kirov Oblast governor's adviser in 2009.
Testifying at the Navalny's trial in Kirov Wednesday, Governor Nikita Belykh said the activist had no authority to act on his behalf and interfere with the operations of local companies.
"Based on the information that I have, I have no reason to make such conclusions [that Aleksei Navalny caused harm]," he said. "At the same time, it's clear that I'm in no position to make an official statement because we have not carried out any expert evaluations in that regard. But I do not have any reasons to make such conclusions."
Belykh, a key witness in the case, added that he never heard about any embezzlement at "Kirovles" or about anyone lobbying for an unprofitable deal between "Kirovles" and its clients.
Navalny was pleased with Belykh’s testimony on May 22.
"In general, I expected him to say exactly what he has said," he told journalists. "I didn't think that [Kirov Oblast Governor Nikita] Belykh would come and lie to the court. He said how it was. And every single one of the remaining 35 prosecution witnesses have been saying more or less how it was and disproved the prosecution statement. Nevertheless, the trial is still continuing; it hasn't been discontinued, the case has not been returned to the prosecution. Therefore, I still have a distinct feeling that the verdict will be written not by the wonderful judge [of the Kirov court Sergei] Blinov, but by somebody else."
Navalny and his lawyers insist the case is politically motivated.
Navalny is a vocal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has expressed an interest in running for president.
With reporting by Reuters, RIA-Novosti, and Interfax