Amnesty International on the trial of Navalny and Ofitserov

posted 19 Jul 2013, 01:10 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Jul 2013, 06:11 ]
18 July 2013 

Source: (info)
On Thursday 18 July the popular, informal leader of the opposition Aleksei Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison. Amnesty International has stated that the trial of Aleksei Navalny was most evidently politically motivated, and the charges against him were highly questionable. The second defendant in the trial, allegedly Aleksei Navalny’s accomplice, was the business man Petr Ofitserov. He was sentenced to four years in prison. 

Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of the two convicted persons. The materials of the case – in the event of a retrial – should be studied in detail by independent experts.

"From the start there were clear indications that the criminal prosecution of Aleksei Navalny was politically motivated. The charges against him are highly questionable in nature, and the manner in which Navalny’s guilt was allegedly proven give rise to serious doubts,” said Sergei Nikitin, head of the representative office of Amnesty International in Russia.

“We have witnessed a parody of a prosecution and a trial. The case was twice closed for lack of evidence of crime, and then reopened on the instructions of the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia.”

Aleksei Navalny is a popular Russian blogger and anti-corruption campaigner. In recent years he has exposed a number of large scale embezzlement schemes, including alleged high-level corruption involving major Russian state-owned oil companies. He actively fought against electoral fraud and the re-election of Vladimir Putin as president, campaigning against the ruling party, United Russia, and for several years has been a key figure in a number of major public protests.. 

The prosecution alleged that in 2009, when Navalny was an advisor to the Kirov Region Governor, he abused his position by imposing a timber supply deal between a company headed by Petr Ofitserov, Navalny’s long-term acquaintance, and the state owned company Kirovles. The prosecution argued that the contract resulted in the misappropriation of more than RUB 16 million (USD 490,000) to the state.

Aleksei Navalny and Petr Ofitserov were found guilty of the appropriation and embezzlement of state-owned property valued at more than RUB 16 million, which corresponds to the full supposed market value of the contract, and does not take into account the approximate RUB 14 million that Kirovles received from the intermediary company for the timber that was supplied.

"The charges were based on a manifestly erroneous assessment of the loss incurred by the state, while the evidence that Aleksei Navalny abused his position to force through the sale was inconclusive. Moreover no representatives of the victims were represented in court,” Nikitin pointed out.

"Navalny could use or, possibly, not use his position to ensure a profitable deal for his acquaintance, but it is out of the question that he caused harm to the full value of the deal, since a significant part of the total value of the deal was paid.” 

A key witness for the prosecution was the former general director of Kirovles, Vyacheslav Opalev, who pleaded guilty, made a plea bargain with the prosecution, and was given a suspended sentence on similar charges.

The judge declined the defence’s request that an independent expert be allowed to testify in court on whether the deal between Kirovles and the intermediary company which had been formerly headed by Vyacheslav Opalev was commercially viable or below market value.

"The trial of Aleksei Navalny and Petr Ofitserov took place in a context of the political harassment of Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, and appears to be linked to his campaigning against corruption and his political activities in recent years,” Sergei Nikitin said. 

“It is a clear example of how the Russian authorities abuse criminal prosecutions to persecute government critics and suppress political opposition and civic activism. This fits into the broader crackdown on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly under way in Russia today.”