MOSCOW -- Russian investigators have opened a criminal investigation against a top antigraft campaigner, Aleksei Navalny.
Investigators confirmed on May 10 that the activist minority shareholder and prolific blogger, whose crusade against corruption has made him something of a popular hero, is being investigated for malfeasance dating back to 2009.
Navalny has dismissed the criminal probe as "falsified" and "fabricated."
Investigative committee representative Vladimir Markin said Navalny is suspected of having used his former position as an adviser to a Russian governor to inflict material damage on a timber company through fraud or abuse of trust.
"According to the investigation's information, while Navalny worked as a volunteer adviser to the governor of Kirov region, he carried out a raft of illegal activities," Markin said, adding that "the result of these was huge damage done to the Kirov region's state company, KirovLes."
The Kirov region's governor has previously dismissed the allegations, while news of the probe has elicited an unsurprised but defiant reaction from Navalny.
"Finally the campaign against corruption has yielded its first results and the investigative agencies are going after the real villains," Navalny quipped on his blog
"I fear absolutely nothing because I am entirely convinced that the accusations have been thought up, falsified, and fabricated," Navalny was quoted by Interfax as saying. "No adequate or normal person observing this situation would have the slightest doubt about this."
He said he only found out about the investigation when he was asked about it by journalists.
Navalny has become a cause celebre in Russia by publishing documents alleging official corruption, which he described in a recent interview with RFE/RL as having deep roots.
"Corruption is so hardy in Russia because it forms the very basis of the power structure," Navalny said. "[President Dmitry] Medvedev and [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin are in power because of corruption."
Navalny posts the allegations on his LiveJournal blog and his new antigraft website, called RosPil. The latter site functions as a forum where volunteers are encouraged to post information about suspicious state tenders, which are now published online in accordance with a presidential decree. Marked Man?
Observers say Navalny, seen by many as the most exciting recent addition to Russia's fractious opposition movement, is coming under pressure because of the nearing State Duma elections in December and the presidential election in March 2012.
For one, Navalny has enraged the United Russia ruling party by referring to its members as "swindlers" and "thieves."
Even though Navalny will have no direct involvement in the elections, he remains an influential figure.
Last week Navalny said that the FSB, Russia's security service, had collected the personal details of donors to his RosPil site and passed them on to the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.
Navalny has been at the center of other signs of possible state incursions against Internet freedoms in Russia.
According to Kaspersky Lab, a top independent Internet watchdog, the sustained denial-of-service attacks (DDOS) earlier this year carried out on LiveJournal, Russia's most popular forum for free political discussion, initially targeted Navalny's blog and website.
The two-week attack provoked a number of prominent Russian bloggers to conclude that the hackers were somehow sponsored by the government.
Navalny's blog is one of the most popular in Russia, while his Twitter feed has almost 40,000 subscribers. Navalny has also used the RosPil site to raise funds for his anticorruption campaign.
with agency reports