The Dominion Post
Kremlin ramps up pressure
President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic could face years behind bars for alleged money laundering by his anti-corruption organisation as a stand-off between the Kremlin and an invigorated opposition continues.
The Investigative Committee, a law enforcement agency that answers only to Putin, claimed that unnamed members of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) laundered one billion roubles (NZ$23m) from 2016 to 2018. It said that it was ‘‘obtained by criminal means’’ and may have come from abroad.
The committee said that it was planning arrests. The charges are punishable by up to seven years in jail.
Navalny, 43, is serving a 30-day sentence for calling for protests to demand that o¨pposition figures be allowed on to the ballot for Moscow’s city parliament elections in September.
The money-laundering allegations were dismissed as ‘‘complete nonsense’’ by Leonid Volkov, a senior member of the FBK.
‘‘We have lived with the risk of criminal charges for many years,’’ Volkov said.
State media said that the money had been funnelled into a series of bank accounts in the guise of donations from ordinary Russians to Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign. Navalny was eventually barred from running.
The FBK, based in Moscow, was founded in 2011 by Navalny, who is a lawyer by profession.
It employs about 30 people, including legal experts, and says it is funded by public donations. It recently published a report detailing a portfolio of properties worth NZ$152 million allegedly owned by the family of Natalia Sergunina, a deputy mayor of Moscow.
The FBK claims that the properties were bought at knockdown prices at auctions organised by Sergunina in her previous capacity as the head of Moscow’s city property department. Sergunina has not commented.
The money-laundering investigation was announced as riot police cracked down on peaceful protesters at a rally in Moscow this weekend in support of aspiring opposition candidates. Police said that 600 people had been detained while OVD Info, a website that monitors protestrelated arrests, put the figure at 1001.
Online footage showed police armed with batons beating protesters lying on the ground.
Lyubov Sobol, an FBK lawyer and would-be candidate, was arrested before the protest. Sobol, 31, is on the third week of a hunger strike in an attempt to force officials to allow her on to the ballot for September’s polls. She and other candidates were denied a place when the authorities claimed the signatures they had to collect from supporters were invalid. The opposition is calling for another rally on Saturday.
Navalny and other opposition figures could also face 15 years in prison over what investigators classified as ‘‘mass unrest’’ at a rally in Moscow on July 27 that resulted in almost 1400 arrests. State media claimed that protesters had been coached at training camps financed with foreign money, an allegation mocked by government critics.
Navalny was rushed to hospital last week with symptoms that his doctor said were consistent with poisoning.
A state hospital said that Navalny tested negative for poisons, though his doctor questioned the findings.