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Russia protest leader faces new criminal charges

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 20 Dec 2012 15:25 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Protest leader Navalny faces new charges

* Navalny says charges are politically motivated

*

MOSCOW, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Alexei Navalny, a prominent leader of protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin, was charged on Thursday with fraud and money laundering.

Investigators accused Navalny and his younger brother, Oleg, of being invovled in a scheme to cheat a mail transport company out of 55 million roubles (${esc.dollar}1.79 million).

If he is found guilty of fraud, Navalny could be jailed for up two years. He denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations are politically motivated.

The Navalny family said after the criminal investigation was first opened that the accusations were intended to persuade him to stop his opposition activities.

Reacting on his Twitter account, the anti-corruption blogger said his father has also been mentioned in the accusations levelked by Russia's Investigative Committee, a government agency.

Of his children, he said: "It's a good thing Dasha and Zakhar are under-age."

Navalny, 36, already face up to 10 years in jail if found fuilty of earlier charges of theft from a state timber company.

He says those charges are part of a Kremlin campaign to discredit him and silence the opposition since Putin returned to the presidency in May.

The cases against Navalny have drawn comparisons with the arrest of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail on money-laundering and tax evasion charges after he fell out of favour with Putin.

A court ruled on Thursday that Khodorkovsky could leave jail two years early in 2014.

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