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Russia on Thursday launched a new criminal probe against top opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a day after his embezzlement trial was adjourned.
Investigators suspect Navalny and his younger brother Oleg of engaging in fraud in 2008 by "deceiving" a firm into signing a contract with their company at a loss of 3.8 million rubles (92,000 euros, 119,000 dollars at today's rates) and then stealing that money.
The case has been combined with a previous fraud and money laundering probe launched against Navalny and his brother last year, in which they are accused of stealing $1.8 million from a client.
Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption blogger who emerged as the leading protest figure in the opposition movement against President Vladimir Putin in the winter of 2011-2012, is involved in a string of criminal cases, one of which went to trial this week.
On Wednesday he faced the court in Russia's northern city of Kirov in a case of alleged misappropriation of $500,000 in a timber deal from the regional government, which he advised in 2009.
Investigators said in a statement Thursday that Navalny and his brother, a manager in Russian Post, the state postal and shipping company, "convinced" a firm named MPK to "sign a deliberately unprofitable contract" with their company, which resulted in the "loss of at least 3.8 million rubles", a sum that was "stolen by the Navalny brothers."
Navalny wrote on his blog that MPK really was a client of his firm, but was pressured into filing a complaint by the security services.
"Both MPK and (cosmetics company) Yves Rocher, which figured in the previous probe were clients," he said. "Both had visits from Investigative Committee and the FSB, who told them to file statements that the Navalny brothers caused them damage."
Yesterday MPK called Navalny and said they can no longer resist constant searches and raids from the police, Navalny wrote on his popular blog. "It's not an original story for Russia, unfortunately," he wrote.
"I'm no longer impressed. There were four probes, now there are five. It's not a huge difference. I can stand it. Someday there will be payback for everything."
Navalny has also been accused by the Investigative Committee of illegally obtaining his license to practise law, and stealing $3.2 million from a liberal political party in 2007.
Last week the Investigative Committee spokesman admitted that Navalny drew attention to himself by his political activity, which he referred to as "teasing" of the Kremlin.
The 36-year-old lawyer however launched his own publicity offensive ahead of his trial, giving multiple interviews, trying to register a party, and announcing that he wants to run for president.