KIROV: A Russian court on Thursday convicted protest leader Alexei Navalny of embezzlement, in a verdict that will disqualify one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics from politics and could see him jailed for several years.
Judge Sergei Blinov said he found Navalny guilty of colluding to steal 16 million rubles ($500,000) in a timber deal while acting as an unpaid advisor to the local government in the northern Kirov region.
Blinov was reading through the full judgement before issuing a sentence, a process which could still take several hours despite his high-speed delivery which made parts of the verdict almost inaudible.
“The court has established that Navalny organized the criminal act and led the execution of this large-scale embezzlement,” Blinov told the cramped courthouse in Kirov.
Anti-Kremlin activists have slammed the trial as the latest in a line of moves by Putin to snuff out the slightest hint of opposition to his 13 years of rule.
Prosecutors in Kirov, a sleepy city 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of Moscow, are seeking a six-year prison colony sentence.
The charismatic 37-year-old, who emerged as a key figure in the mass anti-Putin protests that broke out in December 2011, has dismissed the charges against him as absurd and a set-up to end his budding political career.