A leading associate of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Leonid Volkov, smiles in a courtroom during a hearing in Moscow, March 31, 2017.
A leading associate of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Leonid Volkov, smiles in a courtroom during a hearing in Moscow, March 31, 2017.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service. Some information is from AFP.

WASHINGTON — The fundraising chief for prominent Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny says a Moscow court’s decision to freeze financial assets of the jailed activist’s anti-corruption watchdog is a laughably predictable outcome that says more about the group’s success in exposing widespread corruption than the money laundering charges it’s now facing.

A Moscow district court Thursday froze the assets of Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption (FBK), which was set up to spotlight the excessively lavish lifestyles of top government and Kremlin officials.

“It is actually very funny,” Leonid Volkov told VOA’s Russian Service just hours after criminal charges landed, pointing out that the investigation coincides with a crackdown that has seen Navalny jailed and thousands of people detained at some of the largest free-election rallies Moscow has seen since Putin’s 2012 term began.

“It has already been noted that when someone needs to be accused of murder, the call always comes from MP Lugovoi, who is actually accused of murder in Britain,” said Volkov, referring to former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the State Duma committee on security and countering corruption, who stands accused in the 2006 poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko.

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, right, argues with a man in a military uniform, left, as opposition activist Leonid Volkov, center, listens during a rally in Novosibirsk, Siberia's biggest city, Russia, June 7, 2015.

Russian ‘projection’

Shortly after Thursday’s court ruling was announced, Navalny’s web site posted security camera footage of Russian Investigative Committee officials, Moscow’s equivalent of the FBI, entering FBK headquarters accompanied by masked guards in tactical gear. Other investigators raided the homes of FBK attorneys Vyacheslav Gimadi, Alexander Pomazuyev, Evgeny Zamyatin and Vladlen Los.

Agents also searched the homes of FBK video-producer Vitaly Kolesnikov and regional manager Anastasia Kadetova, and called in other FBK representatives for questioning.

“Everything is done according to this logic,” Volkov told VOA, explaining that just as a pro-Kremlin legislator who stands accused of murder would call for murder charges against an opposition figure, it was members of the State Duma’s financial crimes committee who filed the motion to bring money laundering charges against Navalny’s group.

“Allegations we’ve ‘laundered a billion rubles’ are being levied by the very officials whose homes we’ve proven are worth literally millions of dollars,” he said. “Thieves make accusations of theft; murderers make accusations of murder; rapists make accusations of violence and rape. In psychology, I believe this is what’s called ‘projection.’”

Corruption watchdog

Since being founded in 2011, Navalny’s FBK corruption watchdog has published reports detailing the lavish lifestyles of figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Moscow first deputy mayor Natalia Sergunina.

A court spokesperson said the order would freeze assets estimated at a billion rubles ($15.3 million). Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, however, said the Moscow district court ordered a freeze of 75 million rubles ($1.1 million) held in accounts of the FBK and those of several staff members.

Russian investigators say the FBK knowingly used a large amount of money that was gained by third parties through criminal enterprises. Yarmysh says the foundation solicits donations on its website.

Four FBK employees are currently incarcerated, and several others are under an ongoing investigation. FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol, who called for protests after she was barred from running for a seat on the Moscow City Duma, has been on hunger strike for almost a month.

“What we are seeing now is the most aggressive attempt so far to silence us,” Navalny recently wrote in his blog, vowing not to give in.

“The strategic aim of this raid and all the made-up legal affairs is to create fear. … Do not be afraid to go and demonstrate,” he added.

The opposition is planning another large protest in Moscow on Saturday, although hundreds were detained at the last gathering Aug. 3.