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Navalny Says Russian Oligarchs Stole Some World Cup Funding

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at his trial in May for organizing an unauthorized protest.
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at his trial in May for organizing an unauthorized protest.

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is denouncing the high cost of hosting the World Cup and alleging that some of the money spent by Moscow was embezzled by wealthy businessmen who are close to President Vladimir Putin.

In a live video broadcast only hours after Navalny's release from jail on June 14 and minutes after Russia overwhelming 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the first World Cup match, Navalny commended the Russian soccer players for their "absolutely brilliant" performance.

But then he added: "It's great that Russia has this festival of football, but I don't understand why it absolutely had to cost you and me $14 billion."

The cost has been officially estimated at $13.2 billion, based on an average of the ruble-dollar exchange rate over several years.

"I would like the World Cup to be held for a reasonable amount of money," Navalny said.

"I don't see it as a problem to simultaneously be glad of the Russian team's victory...and at the same time to be outraged at corruption," he said.

Navalny attacked oligarchs close to Putin who were involved in the construction of airports and stadiums around the country to accommodate the games.

He specifically named billionaires Boris Rotenberg and his brother Arkady, as well as Gennady Timchenko, who is seen as one of Putin's closest lieutenants.

"The Rotenbergs and Timchenko earned tens of billions of rubles. When I said earned, you have to understand stole," Navalny said. "We understand very well...those people fantastically enriched themselves from the World Cup."

Navalny, 42, walked free early on June 14 after serving a monthlong sentence for organizing an unauthorized protest.

"I'm with you again after a 30-day business trip. I'm so happy to be free," he joked on Twitter.

The vocal Putin foe was one of hundreds of people apprehended in Moscow and more than 1,600 people detained nationwide during May 5 demonstrations against Putin's inauguration for a new six-year term.

Navalny, who was barred from challenging Putin in March's presidential election, had called on Russians to stage rallies across the country under the slogan "Not our Tsar."

Navalny's lawyer and supporters called his trial politically motivated, and Navalny called the charges aganst him "ridiculous."

Imprisoned several times for his political activities, Navalny after his release wrote a tongue-in-cheek Instagram post about how jail conditions have improved ahead of the World Cup, including the installation of modern toilets and flat-screen televisions.

But he later clarified his post been intended as a joke and was not true. "Sorry guys, to everyone who believed me," he said.

"All of it, from the first word to the last, was a fabrication," he said in a YouTube video, laughing. "I apologize in front of everyone."

"There are no toilets, there are still holes in the floor," he said. "There are no TVs and no goal posts and footballs in the exercise yards."

Navalny has faced a string of charges since he became the leading opposition figure campaigning against Putin's rule at mass demonstrations in 2011 and 2012.

He was jailed three times last year for breaking rules on organizing demonstrations and had to travel to Spain for surgery after one of several street attacks left him nearly blind in one eye.

The European Union and United States have condemned Russia's jailing of Navalny and his followers as undemocratic and in violation of their right to free speech.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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