Europe

Top Putin critic convicted in fraud retrial, vows to run for president anyway

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaking with supporters at the opening of his campaign office in St. Petersburg last Saturday.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaking with supporters at the opening of his campaign office in St. Petersburg last Saturday.  (AP Photo/Elena Ignatyeva)

A Russian court on Wednesday found opposition leader Alexei Navalny guilty in the retrial of a 2013 fraud case, which disqualifies him as a candidate for president next year.

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However, an associate said Navalny will carry on with the campaign he announced in December.

In a webcast hearing, Judge Alexei Vtyurin found Navalny guilty of embezzling timber worth about $500,000. The previous guilty verdict was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights which ruled that Russia violated Navalny's right to a fair trial.

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The judge has yet to pronounce sentence in the trial held in Kirov, a city nearly 500 miles east of Moscow.

During a break in the proceedings, Navalny told reporters that he and his lawyers were comparing this verdict with the text of the 2013 verdict and found them to be identical.

"You can come over and see that the judge is reading exactly the same text, which says a lot about the whole trial," Navalny told reporters, adding that even the typos in the names of companies were identical in both rulings.

Navalny, the driving force behind massive anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012, had announced plans to run for office in December and had begun to raise funds.

Navalny's campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, insisted that the campaign goes on even though the guilty verdict formally bars Navalny from running.

In a post on Facebook, Volkov said that the Kremlin will ultimately decide whether Navalny will be confirmed as a presidential candidate.

"This is the political decision we need to win by campaigning," he said.

Navalny's plans to run in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election were shattered when the Kirov court found him guilty and sent him to prison. But after he spent a night in jail, the court held an emergency hearing and released Navalny on a suspended sentence.

The unusual move was seen by observers as the Kremlin's decision to allow him to run against its candidate in the mayoral race in order to make it look more legitimate. Navalny came in second, garnering about a third of the vote.