Russia: President Putin's adversary found guilty of graft

Navally (right), who shot to prominence at the head of mass protests against Putin in 2011-2012, has pledged to appeal the verdict. Photograph:( Getty )

AFP Moscow, Russia Feb 08, 2017, 06.47 PM (IST)

Top Russian opposition leader and a vociferous critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny, was handed a five-year suspended sentence for embezzlement, a ruling that threatens his chances to contest next year's presidential election.

But Navalny remains defiant despite the verdict, which in Russian laws bar a person from standing for office.

Navalny, who came at the forefront of Russian politics for spearheading the protests against Putin in 2011-12, was proved guilty by a judge in the provincial city of Kirov for pilfering 16 million rubles ($270,000, 253,000 euros) from the regional budget in a timber deal.

The anti-Putin politician said the verdict was telegrammed by the kremlin and vowed to continue his campaigning.

"According to the constitution I have a full right to take part in the elections and I will do that," Navalny said after the verdict. 

"I will continue to represent the interests of people who want to see Russia a normal, honest and non-corrupt country."

He also launched a broadside against Putin, tweeting: "Putin and his gang of thieves fear meeting us in elections. And they are right: we will win."

The court was holding a retrial after Navalny and his co-defendant, businessman Pyotr Ofitserov were convicted of alleged embezzlement in 2013.

The European Court of Human Rights last year quashed the 2013 ruling, saying the men did not have a fair trial.

But Russia's supreme court then ordered that Navalny and Ofitserov face a retrial.

The judge on Wednesday gave Navalny and Ofitserov exactly the same sentences as before and used almost identical wording in a ruling he read out over more than three hours.

Navalny's suspended sentence will run out in about 18 months as he already served most of the five years sentence prior to the retrial, his lawyer Olga Mikhailova told journalists.

(WION with inputs from AFP)