Putin enemy escapes immediate threat of jail

Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Thursday escaped the imminent threat of jail when a court ruled to extend his house arrest by another six months, his spokeswoman said.

President Vladimir Putin's top critic, who has been under house arrest since February and banned from using the Internet, saw his detention extended until late October, spokeswoman Anna Veduta told AFP.

Navalny faces charges of stealing and laundering 27 million rubles ($756,500) from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher and his lawyer had previously said the court could move to place him in a pre-trial jail already Thursday.

The 37-year-old anti-corruption blogger dismisses these and other charges against him as a Kremlin attempt to punish him for daring to oppose Putin.

A Moscow district court made the ruling despite a request from prosecutors to move Navalny to jail for violating the terms of his house arrest by using the Internet.

Navalny's team cited the prisons service as saying that Navalny had violated the terms of his arrest by writing on social networks and publishing an article in the New York Times.

In March, Navalny published an opinion piece in the Times in which he criticised the "malign intent" of Putin and his policies in Crimea, urging the West to slap sanctions on the Russian president's close allies.

The day after his piece was published, Washington targeted officials and businessmen close to the Russian strongman.

The opposition leader's supporters fear that the second major case against Navalny will result in a lengthy jail term, a move that would deliver a huge blow to Russia's already demoralised opposition.

Navalny claims the French firm testified against him under pressure from the Russian security service but later retracted its complaint.

In a statement to AFP, Yves Rocher Vostok said on Wednesday it had filed a complaint against an "unknown person" to protect its interests and to have access to the investigation in a "case in which the company was likely to have been a victim."

Also on Thursday, a separate Moscow court heard a complaint that Navalny damaged the reputation of a senior lawmaker from the ruling party by publishing what he called an investigation into his property.

The court sided with Sergei Neverov, deputy speaker with the Russian parliament's lower house, and ordered Navalny to publish a retraction.

In July, the activist was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in jail but walked free the following day in a surprise move that allowed him to run a high-profile campaign for Moscow mayor.

After Navalny came second in Moscow's mayoral election in September, polling more than 27 percent of the vote, a court converted his five-year sentence into a suspended term.