A Russian judge has rejected a series of legal motions filed by anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny, as a defamation lawsuit filed by Kremlin-connected oligarch Alisher Usmanov got under way.
Lyublinsky District Court Judge Marina Vasina on May 30 turned away requests by Navalny's legal team to summon Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and other top government officials.
Usmanov filed the suit in April after Navalny released a video alleging massive corruption on the part of Medvedev using a network of purported charitable foundations to control wealth both in Russia and abroad.
Among the 16 defense motions rejected by Vasina were requests for relevant documents from the state property registry and tax service to be entered into evidence.
Vasina also ruled that the hearings cannot be broadcast live, despite requests from both sides in the case.
She scheduled the next, and possibly final, hearing for May 31.
One of the allegations leveled by Navalny was that Usmanov gave a $50-million mansion outside Moscow to one of Medvedev's foundations "as a gift." Usmanov has said he traded the property for one of equal value and that he has no idea what has become of it since that time.
Medvedev has denied any connection to the property. Usmanov has insisted that the transfer of the mansion's ownership to a charity foundation was a genuine business deal.
The Navalny video also claimed Usmanov was a criminal, did not pay taxes in Russia, was convicted of rape in Soviet times, and participated in the illegal privatization of mining concerns.
Navalny was present in the courtroom on May 30, while Usmanov was represented by his lawyer, Genrikh Padva.
Navalny's lawyer motioned that the case be dismissed, arguing that it should be heard by an arbitration court. The judge rejected that motion, as well as a defense motion asking for the social foundation Sotsgosproekt to turn over the document by which it acquired the mansion in question.
Vasina rejected a request to call First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who was accused of accepting a bribe from Usmanov in the video, as a witness; rejected requests to summon officials from Sotsgosproekt and other foundations mentioned in the video as witnesses; and rejected a request to enter into evidence the original video about Medvedev and a video in which former oligarch Boris Berezovsky discussed Usmanov's early business career.
According to court filings, Usmanov -- who is worth an estimated $15 billion -- is not seeking compensation for any damages, but wants a retraction and apology from Navalny for numerous claims made in the video, including that Usmanov gave bribes, was a criminal, did not pay taxes in Russia, was convicted of rape in Soviet times, and participated in the illegal privatization of mining concerns.
Navalny told journalists outside the courtroom that the lawsuit aimed to deflect attention from the accusations against Medvedev. He noted that Usmanov is also seeking the complete removal of the Medvedev investigation from the Internet.
Navalny's video on Medvedev has been viewed more than 20 million times since it was posted on March 2.
Navalny is attempting to mount a campaign for Russia's 2018 presidential election, in which President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to seek a fourth term.
Russian authorities have suggested that Navalny would be barred from the presidential ballot due to a conviction on financial crimes charges he contends were fabricated. But election officials have not stated clearly whether Navalny will be allowed to run, and the anticorruption activist has pushed ahead with his campaign.
With reporting by Meduza, Dozhd, Gazeta.ru, and Interfax