MOSCOW -- Police in Moscow have searched the election campaign offices of a close associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny who is planning to take part in parliamentary elections in September.
Oleg Stepanov’s support group condemned the July 1 searches as "pressure on our campaign."
Police said that the raids were linked to a criminal case launched in February on charges of creating a noncommercial organization that "violates citizens' rights."
Stepanov used to work as the chief of Navalny's local office in Moscow.
Ivan Zhdanov, the former director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK); Leonid Volkov, who headed Navalny's regional network before its dissolution in April; and Navalny himself are being investigated in the case.
Last month, election officials rejected Stepanov's move to open a bank account for his campaign, citing his association with the FBK, which along with other groups associated with Navalny was declared extremist by the Russian authorities on June 9.
Stepanov has insisted that he never worked with the FBK.
A day earlier, Aleksei Yakovlev, a former producer of the Navalny LIVE YouTube channel, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Yakovlev's lawyer, Sergei Telnov, said on June 30 that his client was detained aboard a plane after landing and taken to the Investigative Committee for questioning as a witness in an unspecified fraud case.
In late December 2020, the Investigative Committee said that another criminal case had been launched against Navalny on suspicion that he and his associates misused some $4.8 million donated to the FBK by donors and supporters.
On June 29, Russia announced that it had placed Zhdanov, who currently resides in Lithuania, on an international wanted list and had shared the details of his case with Interpol.
The FBK has relentlessly targeted senior government officials over the past decade with widely watched videos detailing corruption allegations that were distributed via the Navalny LIVE channel.
With opinion polls indicating waning support for the ruling United Russia party, authorities have ramped up pressure on dissent ahead of the September elections.
Navalny's political network has been instrumental in implementing a "smart voting" strategy -- a project designed to promote candidates most likely to defeat Kremlin-linked figures.
The Moscow City Court ruling to declare the FBK and other groups related to Navalny as extremist prevents people associated with Navalny and his network of regional offices across Russia from seeking public office.
The ruling also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations.