Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Governor Testifies in Navalny Case

Russia’s beleaguered opposition figurehead, Alexei Navalny, was given a boost in his fight against controversial embezzlement charges on Wednesday when a regional governor testified in his favor. Navalny and a former political ally, Kirov businessman Pyotr Ofitserov, are charged with heading a criminal group that investigators say embezzled 16 million rubles’ ($500,000) worth of timber from state-run company Kirovles in central Russia’s Kirov Region in 2009. According to investigators, Navalny, then an aide to the local governor, Nikita Belykh, pressured Kirovles to sell timber to Ofitserov’s company, VLK, at below-market prices. Navalny denies the charges and says they are revenge for his outspoken criticism of President Vladimir Putin and allegations of high-level graft in government and state-run companies. He faces ten years behind bars if found guilty. “Could Navalny’s activities in the Kirov region have been harmful to it?” the anti-corruption crusader’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, asked Belykh in court on Wednesday. “I have no grounds to draw this conclusion,” replied Belykh, adding that he was unable to give an “official” opinion on this as the region had not carried out an investigation into the charges. Belykh earlier called the charges against Navalny “dubious.” The trial entered its ninth day on Wednesday.

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