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Russian Oppositionist Navalny Calls Latest Conviction 'Telegram From Kremlin'


A court in the Russian city of Kirov has found opposition political activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny guilty of embezzlement.

Judge Aleksei Vtyurin said on February 8 that the trial had established that Navalny "organized the commission of a crime" and sentenced him to a five-year suspended prison term.

Co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov was also convicted, and he was given a four-year suspended sentence. Both men were fined 500,000 rubles ($8,350).

Both Navalny and Ofitserov maintained their innocence, and Navalny said the charges against him were politically motivated and aimed at preventing him from running for president.

"What we have seen is a sort of telegram from the Kremlin," Navalny said after the verdict, "a telegram saying that [the authorities] believe that I, my team, and the people whose views I voice, are too dangerous to be allowed to take part in the election campaign."

The conviction renders Navalny ineligible for public office, according to Russian law. However, Leonid Volkov, who is managing Navalny's campaign for the 2018 presidential election, said the February 8 ruling would have "no impact."

After the trial, Navalny said he would appeal the verdict, meaning that he can continue his political activities while his appeal is pending.

Navalny and Ofitserov were retried on charges of embezzling funds from the state-controlled forestry company KirovLes after the Supreme Court last year nullified the Kirov court's 2013 guilty verdict in the case.

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The text of the verdict was virtually identical to the verdict read out by another judge in that 2013 trial. As the judge was reading, Navalny was posting on Twitter photographs of the old verdict in advance for comparison.

After the hearing, Navalny said that because the text of the verdict was the same and because it had already been overturned, he was confident his appeal will succeed.

The defendants have said they will file a complaint regarding the court's ruling with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), if necessary.

The EU's foreign-policy office said in a statement that the verdict against Navalny was an attempt "to silence yet another independent political voice" in Russia that "further constrains political pluralism...and raises serious questions as to the fairness of democratic processes in Russia."

Michael Georg Link, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), expressed concern over Navalny's conviction, saying in a statement that the ruling "appears to have been handed down with the purpose of limiting his political rights -- including the right to stand for office."

Opposition politician Vladimir Milov told the BBC that the verdict was "widely expected" and expressed confidence Navalny would proceed with his election campaign.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, now an opposition politician, denounced the verdict as "a political decision that has no basis in law."

"The Kremlin is taking revenge on Navalny for his anticorruption investigations and does not want him to have access to the national television channels with his anticorruption agenda," Kasyanov wrote on Facebook.

Navalny announced in December that he would run for president in a March 2018 election in which Vladimir Putin, in power as president or prime minister since 1999, is widely expected to seek a new six-year term

In February 2016, the ECHR ruled that the 2013 trial in the case violated the defendants’ right to a fair trial. According to the ECHR ruling, the Russian court found the men "guilty of acts indistinguishable from regular commercial activity."

Navalny was convicted of fraud in a separate case in 2014 and given a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence.

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