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Human Rights Court Says Navalny Unfairly Convicted In 'Yves Rocher Case'

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (right) listens to his brother and co-defendant Oleg in a Moscow court in December 2014.
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (right) listens to his brother and co-defendant Oleg in a Moscow court in December 2014.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and his brother Oleg were unfairly convicted of financial crimes at trial in the so-called Yves Rocher case in 2014.

In an October 17 ruling, the ECHR said that Russian courts handed down "arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable" decisions in the case, which led to the imprisonment of Oleg Navalny and a suspended sentence for his better-known brother Aleksei.

The Strasbourg-based court ordered Russia to pay a combined total of nearly 76,000 euros ($89,000) and 460,000 rubles ($8,000) to the brothers.

Aleksei and Oleg Navalny were convicted of stealing about $500,000 from two Russian firms, one of which was affiliated with French cosmetics company Yves Rocher, between 2008 and 2012, and of laundering some of the money.

Both were sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, but Aleksei's sentence was suspended. Oleg Navalny remains in prison.

The brothers denied the charges, saying the case was politically motivated -- in part as an effort to deter Aleksei from his opposition activities by making his brother into a "hostage" held behind bars.

The ECHR declined to examine whether the case was politically motivated, although three judges said that it should have done so.

The Russian Justice Ministry said it disagrees with the ECHR ruling.

In a statement issued shortly after the ruling was published, the ministry said Russia will wait for it to come into force and then consider a possible appeal.

The Yves Rocher case is one of two major financial-crimes prosecutions of Navalny, a vocal opponent of President Vladimir Putin who has rattled the Kremlin with reports alleging high-level corruption.

Navalny, 41, is campaigning for a March 2018 vote in which Putin is widely expected to seek and secure a new six-year presidential term.

But Russian authorities say he is barred from running for office because of his conviction in the other case -- known as Kirovles -- in which he was found guilty of stealing money from a state timber company through sales machinations.

Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said on October 17 that Navalny will not be eligible to run for office until about 2028.

The ECHR ruled in 2016 that the trial of Navalny and co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov in the Kirovles case was unfair, saying that they were convicted of actions "indistinguishable from regular commercial activity."

Following that ruling, the Russian Supreme Court threw out the 2013 convictions and ordered a retrial, which ended in February with the same verdicts and the same suspended sentences of five years for Navalny and four for Ofitserov.

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