A Russian court has refused to dismiss a politically charged case in which Aleksei Navalny, a prominent foe of President Vladimir Putin, is accused of large-scale theft from state companies.
The judge at the December 5 hearing in the city of Kirov, Aleksei Vtyurin, said that "it would be premature to consider a motion to dismiss" the case against Navalny.
Vtyurin also dismissed a defense motion to send the case back to the prosecutors, indicating that the court will go ahead with the retrial of Navalny and co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov in the so-called Kirovles case.
The Supreme Court threw out a 2013 guilty verdict against Navalny and Ofitserov in November and sent the case back to the Lenin district court in Kirov, where prosecutors claim they stole 16 million rubles from a state-owned timber company when Navalny was an unpaid adviser to the regional governor in 2009.
Navalny, 40, was handed a five-year suspended sentence after the initial trial in the case, which the anticorruption activist said was politically motivated punishment for his opposition to Putin.
Ofitserov got a four-year suspended sentence.
The Supreme Court threw out the convictions after Navalny filed an appeal following a February ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which found that Russia had violated Navalny's right to a fair trial.
The Supreme Court's decision means that, at least for now, Navalny, who had been barred from seeking elective office, is free to do so. In his appeal, Navalny expressed a desire to run in the 2018 presidential election, in which Putin is eligible to seek a fourth term.
Navalny has criticized the decision to hold a retrial, saying he should be cleared of any wrongdoing or the case abandoned for lack of evidence that he committed a crime. He says the goal of the retrial is to interfere with his political activities and anticorruption campaigning.
In addition to the Kiriovles case, Navalny was convicted of fraud in December 2014 in a separate case and given a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence. His brother, Oleg, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and is currently serving that term.
That conviction -- which the brothers contend was also politically motivated -- did not affect Navalny's eligibility to run for political office.
Navalny was a key leader of a series of large antigovernment protests that erupted after the opposition alleged that December 2011 parliamentary elections were marred by widespread fraud on behalf of the ruling United Russia party.
He challenged the Kremlin-backed incumbent in a Moscow mayoral election in 2013, coming in second with more than 27 percent of the vote. He was allowed to run in the mayoral election because his appeal of the Kirovles conviction was still pending.
With reporting by Ekho Moskvy, Rapsinews.ru, TASS, and AP