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Alexei Navalny, one of Russia’s most popular opposition leaders, has called the embezzlement charges against him "absurd."
A state prosecutor asked a regional Russian court on Friday to slap opposition blogger Alexei Navalny with a six-year jail sentence for fraud, in a case critics have said is politically motivated.
Navalny, who played a leading role in the anti-Kremlin protests that erupted in December 2011 and has regularly posted evidence of alleged government corruption, stands accused of helping to embezzle around $500,000 worth of timber from a state-controlled firm in the central Russian region of Kirov in 2009.
The prosecutor, Sergei Bogdanov, also asked the court to fine Navalny around $30,000. The charges against him carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
Navalny, 37, who announced last month that he intends to run in Moscow’s mayoral elections in early September, has slammed the allegations as “absurd.” He argues that the prosecution failed to uncover any evidence that proves wrongdoing.
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In his closing statement, Navalny lambasted the court for pursuing a political case, likening the trial to “a television show.”
“I know that anyone watching this live translation or following the details of the case can come up to me and say, ‘Alexei, you’re not guilty.’”
He also pledged to continue his anti-corruption and opposition activities, in a heartfelt indictment of President Vladimir Putin’s administration.
“I proclaim that my colleagues and I will do everything in order to destroy this feudal order that is being constructed in Russia, to destroy the system of power in which 83 percent of the national wealth belongs to half a percent of the population,” he said.
“If someone thinks that when I hear this sentence of six years I’ll run away abroad or hide somewhere, they’re sorely mistaken,” Navalny continued. “I will not run away from myself – I have no other exit and I don’t want to do anything else.”
The verdict is expected on July 18.
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Critics say the case is aimed at politically neutralizing Navalny, but they remain split over whether the court will hand down a suspended or mandatory sentence in the likely case of a conviction.
A suspended sentence would be enough to bar Navalny from standing in elections. According to Russian law, a candidate with a criminal record is unable to hold public office.
Navalny’s lawyers, meanwhile, have complained of an unfair trial, slamming the court’s refusal to hear testimony from more than a dozen defense witnesses.
The Kremlin has increasingly cracked down on the opposition movement since Putin’s return to the presidency last year.
The Russian parliament has passed a raft of laws critics say is meant to stifle dissent and curb civil society. Meanwhile, more than a dozen ordinary protesters face hefty prison sentences for their alleged roles in an opposition rally last May that turned violent.