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Moscow Court Brings Navalny Verdict Forward To December 30

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny
Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

A Russian court says it will issue its verdict in a fraud case against opposition politician Aleksei Navalny on December 30, bringing the date forward from January 15.

Navalny's supporters had planned an unsanctioned political protest for January 15 to coincide with the initial date for the verdict.

They swiftly reacted to the Moscow court's December 29 announcement and, within hours, more than 4,000 people signed up on Facebook to rally near the Kremlin on December 30.

Government critics have aired suspicions that the verdict date was changed in a bid to upend supporters' plans for the rally and give them less time to organize.

Navalny's supporters say charges that he stole about 31 million rubles ($520,000) from two different companies in Russia are politically motivated.

In combination with an earlier conviction of stealing from a state timber company, prosecutors have asked the court to give Navalny a 10-year sentence.

Navalny's brother, Oleg Navalny, also is a defendant in the latest case. Prosecutors have asked for him to be sentenced to 8 years in prison if convicted.

Aleksei Navalny has been under house arrest since February in connection with the earlier trial.

Facebook Page Taken Down

Thousands of people said on Facebook that they would attend the January 15 protest.

Facebook granted a Russian government request to block the page organizing the demonstration, but a second page was created later by Navalny's supporters.

The 38-year-old Navalny is an anticorruption crusader who helped lead protests against the Russian government during 2011 and 2012.

Navalny also unsettled the Kremlin with a strong showing of support in the Moscow mayoral election of 2013.

He and his brother Oleg are charged with stealing 31 million rubles ($520,000) from two companies, the Russian timber company and a Russian affiliate of the French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher, and of laundering some of the money.

Navalny was sentenced to prison in 2013 after being convicted in the timber case and was taken from the courtroom to a detention facility.

But he was released the following day after thousands of protesters gathered outside the Kremlin to denounce his imprisonment.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax
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