MOSCOW — Russia has opened a new financial investigation into allegations against a prominent leader of the political opposition. The announcement of a criminal probe against anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny comes as a rally against President Vladimir Putin is scheduled for Saturday.
A statement on the federal investigative committee’s website shows that Navalny and his brother are being investigated for allegedly stealing nearly $1.8 million through a trading company in which they are involved.
Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, says that most of the money the Navalny brothers allegedly stole was from a trade company and in order to launder that money he says they used fake contracts.
Navalny already faces charges of theft for allegedly stealing timber from a state company in the Kirov region where he was advising the governor in 2009.
Navalny and the opposition say President Vladimir Putin runs the country through a tightly-controlled political system and corruption -- charges the Kremlin denies.
Navalny says the charges against him are politically motivated.
Navalny says judging by the way the situation is developing now, the common logic suggests that he will go to prison and he is trying to prepare his relatives for it. Navalny went on to say otherwise why would officials bring charges that everyone is laughing at. He said if the "gun" is on the way, it should fire and they will jail him.
The Kremlin denies that Navalny is being targeted for his political views.
But Ilya Ponomaryov, a Just Russia Parliament Faction member, says the Kremlin continues to crack down on the opposition.
He said there is a threatening factor and that the investigative committee believes quite sincerely that the more criminal cases it opens, the more fearful people will be and the more silent they will be. Ponomaryov continued saying they must have received an order to do that, probably yesterday, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny is not the only opposition leader who faces jail time. In September, billionaire Alexander Lebedev, who owns a newspaper critical of the Kremlin, was charged with hooliganism for punching a fellow businessman on a state television show last year. Lebedev says the charges are politically motivated because President Putin thinks he, Lebedev, is funding the opposition. Lebedev denies the charges.
The announcement of new charges against Navalny come a day ahead of a planned opposition protest against Putin.
Saturday's rally has not been sanctioned by Moscow city authorities. That means that those who participate in and/or organize the rally are subject to massive fines and/or arrest. Navalny faces up to 10 years in prison if he is convicted on the theft charges.