Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been found guilty of large-scale fraud and contempt of court, and appears to owe several more years to his prison sentence on charges he and his supporters say are politically motivated.
Mr Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, is already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for a parole violation. State prosecutors had asked the court to transfer him from an east Moscow prison to a maximum-security facility for 13 years on charges of fraud and contempt of court.
The opposition figure returned to Russia last year after receiving medical treatment in Germany and was immediately arrested after surviving a poisoning attack he says was ordered by Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin denied this.
Mr Navalny has been accused of stealing $4.7m (£3.5m) in donations to his now-banned political organisations. Judge Margarita Kotova said Mr Navalny had committed a criminal offense by publicly insulting the court.
The judge confirmed that he pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges against him.
A scrawny-looking Navalny stood next to his lawyers in a room full of prison security guards as the judge read the charges against him.
The 45-year-old seemed unfazed, looking down as he leafed through court documents. A decision is expected later Tuesday.
Mr Navalny returned to his native Germany from Germany after being poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent during a visit to Siberia in 2020.
It blames Mr Putin for the attack, but the Kremlin says it has seen no evidence Navalny was poisoned and has denied any Russian role if he was.
After the final court hearing on his case on March 15, Mr Navalny struck a typically defiant tone, writing via Instagram: “If jail time is the price of my human right to say things that need to be said.. .then they can claim 113 years. I will not deny my words or my deeds.
Russian authorities have portrayed Mr. Navalny and his supporters as subversives bent on destabilizing Russia with Western backing.
Many of his allies fled Russia rather than face restrictions or jail at home.
Mr Navalny’s opposition movement has been branded ‘extremist’ and closed, although his supporters continue to voice their political stance, including their opposition to Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, on social media .
He also expressed his opposition to Mr. Putin’s war with Ukraine.
Demonstrations against the conflict have erupted in major cities across Russia and earlier this month Mr Navalny called on people to take to the streets daily.
“I call on everyone to take to the streets and fight for peace,” his spokesperson wrote on Twitter.
Mr Navalny’s account tweeted: “We – Russia – want to be a nation of peace. Alas, few people would call us that now.
“Let’s not become at least a nation of fearful silencers. Cowards who pretend not to notice the war of aggression against Ukraine unleashed by our obviously insane Tsar.
Some reports estimate that at least 15,000 Russians were arrested for protesting the invasion.