Alexei Navalny: Russian court upholds suspended sentence for Putin critic

The theft convictions handed down to Navalny and his brother Olega have been viewed as a political vendetta by the Kremlin.

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The Independent Online

A Russian court has upheld a suspended three-and-a-half year prison sentence for Krelmin critic and activist Alexei Navalny, in a theft case which has been widely viewed as a political vendetta by the Kremlin.

Navalny, an activist and lawyer, and his brother Oleg were both handed 3-and-a-half-year jail sentences last year for stealing 30 million roubles (£310,000) from two firms, including an affiliate of French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher.

While Oleg is serving his time in jail, Navalny was handed a suspended sentence and given house arrest terms in February pending the theft case. Today, those terms were dropped by Moscow City court.

In 2011 and 2012 Navalny, a blogger and activist, led protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his conviction last year brought thousands of protesters on to the streets in what was described as one of Russia's boldest anti-government demonstrations in years.

The brothers were found guilty of defrauding companies by overcharging for mail parcel services provided by their business from 2008 to 2011, with Oleg allegedly using his position as a senior manager at Russia’s Post Office to attract customers. Nalavny was embroiled in the case as he was registered as the company's founder.

The court's verdict quickly attracted negative attention, with the US State Department calling it a disturbing development "designed to further punish and deter political activism" while, the EU said the verdict seemed to be politically motivated.

During the appeal at Moscow City court, Russian prosecutors had sought a 10 year jail sentence for the brothers. They argued that Navalny's suspended sentence was “excessively soft” and the pair should be isolated from society, according to reports from Russian news agencies.

Alexei Navalny at Moscow City Court today, as his jailed brother Oleg is screened from prison (Image: EPA)

Navalny responded to prosecutors' demands by saying they were "not based on the law and are not worth reviewing", Interfax news agency reported.

In the face of the theft case, Navalny has promised to lead a 100,000-person-strong protest on 1 March against policies he says are plunging Russia deeper into economic crisis.

While Putin's popularity ratings have soared since the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory, Navalny hopes to tap into anger over a faltering economy expected to contract this year in the face of falling oil prices and Western sanctions.

Additional reporting by Reuters