By Nikolaus Von Twickel, dpa (TNS)
MOSCOW — A Russian court on Tuesday found opposition leader Alexei Navalny guilty on corruption charges and gave him a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence, in a case widely criticized as politically charged.
Navalny’s supporters were especially incensed that the activist’s brother, Oleg, was sentenced to three and a half years in jail on the same charges. Oleg Navalny was arrested directly in the courtroom, according to the brothers’ lawyer, Vadim Kobzev.
Alexei Navalny will continue to serve pretrial house arrest until the full verdict is published, Kobbzev told dpa. The arrest was prolonged by the same court earlier this month until January 15, with the judge arguing that Navalny might otherwise influence the trial.
The Zamoskvoretsky district court also fined both brothers 500,000 rubles (8,800 dollars) each and ordered them to pay more than 77,000 dollars in damages.
Navalny reacted with disgust to his brother’s sentencing. “Of all possible verdicts, this is the foulest,” he wrote on Twitter.
Both brothers have called the charges fabricated. Fellow activists denounced the decision as state-sponsored hostage-taking.
“The sentence for [Navalny’s brother] means we’re now taking family members hostage,” Moscow-based political analyst Lilia Shevtsova wrote on Facebook.
The judge did not read out the verdict’s explanation on Tuesday. However, the charges read that a company linked to the brothers defrauded at least 30 million rubles (500,000 dollars) from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher.
Prosecutors have argued that the company, Glavpodpiska, offered freight services at above market prices and that Navalny used his “administrative resources” to force Yves Rocher to accept them.
A company representative has said during an earlier court hearing that total damages amount to 55 million rubles, more than 800,000 dollars at the time.
Navalny earlier this year published a letter from Yves Rocher in which the company retracted its initial accusation.
Prosecutors had asked for 10 years in prison for Alexei Navalny and eight years for his brother.
Navalny’s lawyer, Kobzev, said that prosecutors’ wanted to include a five-year suspended sentence that was handed down in 2013 for a separate corruption case. “They court did not grant this,” he told dpa.
Kobzev added that he will appeal the brothers’ verdicts.
Tuesday’s court session was originally planned for mid-January, but was moved up abruptly Monday. A court spokeswoman explained the decision by saying that the verdict was “already prepared.”
Opposition activists said the decision was motivated by authorities’ fear of protests announced for the original court date on January 15.
They called for a demonstration to support Navalny in central Moscow Tuesday evening.
AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov