Russian prosecutors have charged Aleksei Navalny, a blogger and anti corruption activist, with embezzlement in an old case that could put one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's loudest critics in jail for 10 years.
Navalny has been accused of organizing a scheme in 2009 to steal timber from a state owned company while he was acting as an unofficial adviser to the Kirov regional government in a deal which caused the loss of about $500,000 to the regional budget, BBC News reported.
According to the Financial Times the arrest is the latest in a Kremlin crackdown against activists who led protests against Putin this year. Navalny himself said that the case had been revived in the wake of a large demonstration on May 6, the eve of Putin's inauguration, that culminated in clashes between police and demonstrators.
Navalny said the charge was absurd, and compared the charges against him as timilar to those against Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a Russian oil magnate and Putin rival who has been in prison since 2003 on tax evasion charges.
“All these jokes that Khodorkovsky stole all the oil and Navalny stole all the timber, that basically reflects what has happened today,” Navalny said, The New York Times reported. “As far as I can tell, the single idea behind this is that people watching the news on the first channel can hear on the news that Navalny stole 16 million rubles.”
According to the AFP, Central Kirov region Governor Nikita Belykh dismissed the case as a form of political pressure. She said that local investigators had already concluded that Navalny had committed no crime.
The investigators on Tuesday pressed two counts against Navalny that include "misappropriation or embezzlement... committed by an organised group or on an especially large scale."
The Financial Times reported that in the months following Putin's nauguration as president, he has started to craft a legal framework to crack down on opposition groups, including passing measures to designate non-government organisations receiving foreign funding as foreign agents and signing a law blacklisting internet sites that critics fear could curtail internet freedoms.