A court in St. Petersburg has downgraded extortion charges against the editor of a newspaper in Russia's Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad and instead convicted him of a lesser charge of "arbitrariness."
The Moskovsky district, on June 17, said it had dropped financial extortion charge against Igor Rudnikov, and instead found him guilty of attempted "arbitrariness" and failure to inform authorities about holding an unspecified foreign citizenship.
The court sentenced Rudnikov to 550 hours of community work, but let him out of custody as he had been held for more than 15 months during the trial process.
Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Rudnikov to 10 years in prison on the extortion charges.
Rudnikov has insisted that the case against him was politically motivated and his lawyer has said that the investigative reporter was severely beaten during his detention.
The court's unexpected move to downgrade the charge against Rudnikov comes days after another Russian investigative journalist, Ivan Golunov, was released following Moscow's court decision to drop narcotics charges against him amid a public outcry.
Rudnikov, editor in chief of Novyye Kolyosa (New Wheels), was arrested in November 2017 and charged with extorting $50,000 from a senior regional law-enforcement official in exchange for halting publication of potentially damaging articles about the official.
Russian state news agencies reported from the Kaliningrad courtroom on November 3 that the target of the alleged extortion was Viktor Ledenyov, a senior Kaliningrad investigative official.
Some of Rudnikov's colleagues contend his arrest was retaliation for material published by the newspaper, including reports suggesting Ledenyov owns luxury real estate.