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Navalny faces another 15 years in prison as new trial begins in Russia

Aleksei A. Navalny, the most prominent challenger to power of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, appeared in a court hearing on Tuesday to face charges of embezzlement and contempt of court that could extend his 15 years imprisonment.

The trial begins as Mr Putin captured the world’s attention by engaging in a high-stakes showdown with the West over Ukraine. Supporters of Mr Navalny have said they believe the trial was deliberately timed to coincide with the crisis to distract from his case.

The proceedings took place in a prison outside Moscow, where Mr Navalny, who accused Mr Putin of ordering his security agencies to assassinate him, is serving a sentence which ends the year next. The Kremlin has denied Mr. Navalny’s accusations.

Standing in a makeshift courtroom in his prison uniform, Mr Navalny accused the court of deliberately holding the trial in a penal colony a few hours from Moscow to reduce media attention and hamper the work of his lawyers, who were not allowed to bring their laptops with case materials.

“The people who ordered this trial are scared,” Navalny said, according to MediaZona, a Russian news site. “They’re afraid of what I’m saying here, that people see the lawsuit was clearly fabricated.”

Russian investigators have accused Mr. Navalny of embezzling $4.7 million in donations to his foundation. In a video released before the trial, Mr Navalny’s ally Ivan Zhdanov accused two of the four victims mentioned in the case of cooperating with the Russian government to “slander an innocent person in exchange for money”.

“These are people who were brought in by the hand, given someone else’s money and told to make one payment,” Zhdanov said, adding that the case Criminal proceedings were only opened a day after one of the four victims sent a donation to the foundation. .

The other two people who filed complaints against Mr. Navalny were pressured to do so, Mr. Zhdanov said. One faces up to 10 years in prison and the other is being investigated for tax evasion, he said.

Mr Navalny was arrested for a parole violation at a Moscow airport after returning to Russia last year from Germany, where he was recovering from a poisoning he says was staged by the government Russian. Since his return and subsequent conviction, Mr. Navalny and his associates and supporters have faced increased pressure from the Russian government.

Multiple criminal proceedings have been opened against him and his allies. His anti-corruption foundation and political organization have been declared extremist. Many of his allies had to flee Russia. Some have been arrested and remain in detention.

“Since I insulted your Putin not only by surviving, but by coming back, that means I will be in prison, there will be this case,” Mr. Navalny told the judge and prosecutors during the hearing, according to Area Media. “The real crime I could commit is if I’m afraid of you and whoever stands behind you.”

nytimes Eur

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