MOSCOW (AP) — A prosecutor on Friday asked a Russian court to convict an opposition leader of embezzlement and sentence him to six years in prison.
Alexei Navalny, who led protests against President Vladimir Putin and exposed alleged government corruption, is accused of heading a criminal group that embezzled 16 million rubles ($500,000) worth of timber from a state-owned company while working as an adviser to the provincial governor in Kirov in 2009.
Prosecutor Sergei Bogdanov told the court in the city of Kirov that Navalny should also be fined 1 million rubles ($30,000), saying that his crime is “common” and “banal.”
The 37-year-old lawyer, who wants to challenge Moscow’s mayoral race in September, has said the charges are revenge for his exposure of high-level corruption and are intended to silence him.
Also on trial is Pyotr Ofitserov, who ran a timber trading company in Kirov during Navalny’s time in this northwestern Russian region. Prosecutors asked the court to sentence Ofitserov to five years in prison.
In his final argument Navalny described charges against him as “absurd” and said that prosecutors had failed to provide any evidence that he was involved in embezzlement — or that this embezzlement ever happened.
Navalny said the absurdity of the case was supported by Kirov officials’ decision not to sue him and Ofitserov for damages in an arbitration court.
“Who is the victim here?” Navalny said. “Show me where the money was taken from and where it got to! Who profited from it? There’s nothing of this kind, but this trial goes on.”
Vyacheslav Opalev, a key prosecution witness whose testimony triggered the charges, got a suspended sentence in an expedite trial in December after pleading guilty to conspiring with Navalny to steal timber from state-owned company Kirovles. Navalny insists that Opalev framed him in revenge for Navalny’s recommendation to fire Opalev and investigate corruption in his company.
Throughout the trial, testimony of prosecution witnesses clashed with the core arguments of the indictment that claimed Navalny’s work in Kirov led to the embezzlement. None of the managers working at Kirovles and who appeared in court, except for Opalev, were able to confirm that Navalny defrauded the company.