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Poisoned Kremlin Critic Navalny Told To Return To Russia Or Face Jail


Aleksei Navalny

Russia's Federal Prison Service has told Kremlin critic and anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny to return immediately from Germany -- where he is recovering from a near-fatal poisoning by a Soviet-era nerve agent -- or face jail in Russia.

In a December 28 statement, the prison service accused Navalny of violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence relating to a 2014 fraud conviction and of evading criminal inspectors.

Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20 and was treated and placed in an induced coma in a Siberian hospital before being transferred to a world-class facility in Germany.

Lab tests in three European countries, confirmed by the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, have established the Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent of the Novichok class. The findings led the European Union to imposed sanctions on six Russian officials and a state research institute.

Russian authorities have claimed that no trace of poison was found in Navalny's body before he was airlifted to Germany, and have refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident. Navalny has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning.

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The service cited an article in the British medical publication The Lancet in arguing that Navalny was discharged from Berlin's Charite hospital in September and that he was fully recovered by mid-October.

"The convicted man is not fulfilling all of the obligations placed on him by the court, and is evading the supervision of the Criminal Inspectorate," the prison service said.

Navalny's probationary period for his suspended 3 1/2 year prison term expires on December 30. Navalny, an opposition politician and vocal Putin critic, has said that the case was politically motivated. The suspended sentence could be changed to a real jail term if the alleged violations are determined by Russian officials to be valid.

Audio Recording

On December 28, Navalny lawyer Vadim Kobzev tweeted that the Criminal Inspectorate had ordered Navalny to show up at its office on the morning of December 29.

Navalny, who has vowed to return home at an undisclosed time, responded by saying that the demand showed that the Russian government was accepting that he was poisoned.

Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, tweeted that it would not be possible for Navalny to return to Russia by the deadline, and that he was still recuperating from his poisoning.

"There's no way he could appear at the Moscow Criminal Inspectorate tomorrow. But does the FSIN [prison service] really care about common sense? They were given an order, they are fulfilling it," she wrote.

Navalny made waves recently when he released an audio recording on December 21 of a telephone call with a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer in which his poisoning was openly discussed. In the call, an FSB officer identified as Konstantin Kudryavtsev appears to believe he is speaking to a Russian security official and freely describes the circumstances of the poisoning.

The FSB has dismissed the recording as a fake.

Lyubov Sobol, a longtime Navalny associate and lawyer for his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), was recently charged with "violent trespassing" after she rang the doorbell of Kudryavtsev's home on December 21 in an attempt to question him about the recording released earlier that day.

She was detained by police on December 25 and her home searched and computers and phones confiscated. On December 27, she was charged and released. She faces from two to five years in prison if found guilty of the charges, which she has said are "revenge" for Navalny surviving his poisoning.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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