Putin critic Alexei Navalny is handed three-and-a-half year sentence for fraud in 'disgusting and vile verdict'

Alexei Navalny's sentence was suspended, but his brother was sent to prison for fraud against a French company

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The Independent Online

Alexei Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption campaigner who has been a persistent critic of Vladimir Putin, has been found guilty of fraud and given a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence; his brother received a custodial sentence.

The sentencing had been planned to take place in January, but the proceedings were unexpectedly moved to the day before New Year’s Eve, a public holiday in Russia. It has been speculated that the authorities wished to minimise the risk of protests.

Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg were both convicted of defrauding a French cosmetics company and were handed the same sentence, but the more prominent Mr Navalny’s sentence was suspended.

"Aren't you ashamed of what you're doing? You want to punish me even harder?" Alexei Navalny shouted as Judge Yelena Korobchenko passed the sentence on his brother.

Both brothers were also fined 500,000 roubles (£5,700) and ordered to pay 4 million roubles (£46,000) in damages.

"This is the most disgusting and vile of all possible verdicts," Alexei Navalny said outside the court.

 

"The government isn't just trying to jail its political opponents — we're used to it, we're aware that they're doing it — but this time they're destroying and torturing the families of the people who oppose them," he said, and called for a protest Tuesday evening.

More than 30,000 people had joined a Facebook group that had planned to rally against the trial outside the Kremlin.

It is claimed that Oleg Navalny, the father of two young children and a former postal executive, has never played a part in opposition movements and his imprisonment could herald a return to the Soviet-era practice of punishing relatives and those close to dissidents.

The suspended sentence means that Alexei Navalny could be incarcerated should he offend again. He has been under house arrest since February and will remain there until all appeals have been completed, according to his lawyer.

Marsha Lipman, a Moscow-based political analyst, said that the verdict was a message to opposition groups: “All of you guys are at our mercy.”

She added that the Kremlin had decided not to make a martyr out of Alexei Navalny, but instead the aim was “not to consolidate the opposition, but to demoralise and intimidate it”.

Yves Rocher, the French company implicated in the trial, had written a letter of complaint to prosecutors and insisted that no damages were applicable. But the French executive who wrote the initial letter has since left Russia and was not present at the trial.

Alexei Navalny rose to prominence after investigating corruption inside the administration and was one of the leaders of anti-Putin protests in 2011 and 2012 in Moscow.

He was handed another suspended sentence in 2013 in a separate embezzlement case and in September of that year came second in the Moscow mayoral elections.

Additional reporting AP

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