Moscow: Russian investigators on Thursday accused a prominent opposition leader of fraud and money-laundering, intensifying legal pressure on the anti-Kremlin protest movement as it prepares to hold its next big demonstration this weekend.
Investigators said they suspect Alexei Navalny and his brother of defrauding a transportation company of 55 million rubles (USD 1.8 million) by overcharging it for postal services. Navalny wrote on Twitter that the accusations were "utter nonsense" and suggested they were aimed at targeting his family in reprisal for his efforts to mobilise opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
A 36-year-old charismatic lawyer, Navalny first made his name exposing corruption in state-controlled companies. He then spearheaded a series of street rallies in Moscow that drew up to 100,000 people before last March`s vote that handed Putin a third presidential term.
Navalny`s personal assistant, lawyer and brother all told Russian media they had learned of the charges through news reports and were unaware of any summons for questioning.
Navalny was charged in July with stealing 16 million rubles (about USD 500,000) in assets from a state timber company, threatening him with a 10-year prison sentence. Navalny has called the timber charges "absurd" and "shameless."
The Russian opposition is gearing up for another major demonstration tomorrow, marking roughly a year since the mass anti-Putin protests began. The Moscow city government has refused to authorise the opposition rally, so it is likely to be dispersed by police.
Investigators have accused several other opposition figures of crimes in the buildup to the protest. State-linked media released transcripts and audio recordings yesterday that the federal Investigative Committee said proved protest leaders, including prominent left-wing activist Sergei Udaltsov, had followed the orders of Georgian officials intent on overthrowing the Russian government.