YouTube has temporarily removed a video produced by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny that accused Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika and his family of corruption, citing claims of copyright infringement by a Swiss-based photographer.
The 43-minute film, which accuses Chaika’s two sons of using the cover of their father’s subordinates to illegally enrich themselves, has garnered more than 4 million views on YouTube since its release on December 1.
But the video at the YouTube link distributed by Navalny was removed on January 4, with the California-based Internet giant saying that it was "no longer available due to a copyright claim" by Daniel Lopez-Paullada, a photographer and filmmaker based in Geneva.
Lopez-Paullada confirmed to RFE/RL in a telephone interview that had made a copyright claim due to "video content that was used without my consent."
He refused to explain exactly what the content in question was or when he made his claim, saying he was "not at liberty to discuss this at the moment, to be perfectly honest."
YouTube, which did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment from RFE/RL, restored access to the video later on January 4.
Lopez-Paullada has produced a promotional video for the Pomegranate Wellness Spa Hotel on Greece's Chalkidiki Peninsula.
The hotel featured prominently in Navalny's film as a trophy that one of Chaika's sons, Artyom, allegedly purchased with illicit funds. Footage of the hotel used in Navalny's film appears similar to images from Lopez-Paullada's promotional video.
Leonid Volkov, an anticorruption activist and political ally of Navalny, said that the opposition leader's Anticorruption Fund, which released the video, said it was removed on January 4. He said they planned to challenge the copyright claim.
"But we have to explore the situation a bit first," Volkov told RFE/RL. "This is quite a surprise."
Allegations Of Corruption, Organized Crime Ties
The video alleged that Chaika's family and senior officials in the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office had business ties to a notorious gang that for years terrorized a small town in southern Russia. The gang's leaders were convicted of murdering 12 people, including four children, in 2010.
Chaika has described the allegations as "a hatchet job" financed by William Browder, an American-born British citizen who was a prominent investor in Russia before he was banned from the country in 2005.
Browder, who was instrumental in lobbying for a 2012 U.S. law sanctioning Russian citizens that Washington deems complicit in rights abuses, called Chaika's claim "the emotional ranting of someone who has been caught red-handed and is desperately looking for an escape route."
According to Navalny's investigation, Artyom Chaika, who is a permanent resident of Switzerland, has illegally privatized industrial facilities and businesses in Russia that has allowed him to purchase a luxurious hotel in Greece and a villa in Switzerland.
The film also claims that Chaika's other son, Igor, who owns several large Russian business enterprises, has been illegally awarded state tenders for construction and development projects in Russia.
President Vladimir Putin addressed the allegations against Chaika in his annual news conference on December 17, saying it was not clear whether the prosecutor's children had broken any laws.
A nationwide survey published on December 23 by the Levada Center, a respected Russian polling agency, found that 5 percent of Russian respondents had viewed Navalny's film, while 33 percent said they had at least heard of it.
Among respondents who had at least heard of the film, 27 percent said they were "confident" that Navalny's allegations "are true" and that they were "shocked" by them. Some 39 percent said the allegations "resemble the truth, though the veracity of these claims are difficult to judge."