Russian investigators on Tuesday charged popular protest leader Alexei Navalny with embezzlement in an old case that may put one of President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics in jail for 10 years.
The Investigative Committee said in a statement that Navalny would also be barred from leaving Moscow during a probe into the opposition leader’s time as an unofficial adviser to a small deal struck by a regional government in 2009.
The charismatic 36-year-old corporate lawyer by profession looked pale as he came out of closed hearings during which the charges against him were expanded substantially to include some of Russia’s gravest business crimes.
“Something absolutely absurd and very strange has happened because they have completely changed the story behind the charge,” the prominent anti-corruption blogger told reporters.
“I cannot imagine how the investigators can prove this. But probably they will prove it.”
Navalny was already a cult figure with Russia’s growing Internet community for his campaign against state corruption when he helped spearhead the wave of protests that rocked the Kremlin in winter months.
He has since emerged as one of the most prominent leaders of a splintered protest movement that has faced new challenges from authorities since Putin’s disputed third presidential term began in May.
Several top protest organizers are being investigated on various charges. The newest ones against Navalny concerned a small business deal that was struck by a regional government he advised three years ago.
The case had been probed and dropped in the past. But Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin personally demanded a review of the case earlier this month in comments broadcast on state TV news.
Investigators had originally accused Navalny of causing the regional budget a loss of 1.3 rubles ($40,000) by advising a local state-owned timber firm to conclude a deal another small company in 2009-2010.
Navalny was not accused of profiting personally in the case but misleading the local governor whom he advised on an informal basis.
The charges released on Tuesday showed that the budget’s loss had soared to 16 million rubles ($500,000).
Central Kirov region Governor Nikita Belykh has dismissed the case as a form of political pressure and stressed that local investigators had long concluded that Navalny had committed no crime.
The investigators on Tuesday pressed two counts against Navalny that include “misappropriation or embezzlement … committed by an organized group or on an especially large scale.”
The offense carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years.
He was also charged with being an accomplice to a crime and ordered not to leave Moscow until the trial begin.
Navalny told reporters he could no longer rule out being arrested in the coming days or weeks.
“It is possible,” he said. “If it is possible for them to say that I stole those 16 million (rubles), then anything is possible.
But he also vowed to continue his political activities despite the renewed pressure from the state.
“I will continue doing what I did before. Nothing has changed for me,” said Navalny.
[Alexei Navalny image via Agence France-Presse]
US withholds cash from UN Population Fund over China abortions
The United States said Tuesday it will again withhold contributions to the UN Population Fund due to its work with China, which controls family size, as the agency accused Washington of jeopardizing women's health.
It marked the third straight year that the United States has refused to fund the UN body as President Donald Trump's administration seeks to combat abortion, a pivotal issue for his evangelical Christian base.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determined that "China's family planning policies still involve the use of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization practices," conditions that under US law require an end to funding, a State Department spokeswoman said.
Kim Jong-un threatens to restart nuke tests as Trump’s efforts to talk to the regime fall apart again: report
On Tuesday, CNN's Brian Todd reported that the North Korean regime is on the brink of rescinding what little they promised President Donald Trump, as the future of his efforts to continue talks appear uncertain.
"Kim Jong-un's regime is once again in negotiation by intimidation," said Todd. "Just two weeks after their historic meeting at the DMZ, and President Trump's short stroll into North Korea, North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un appears to be threatening to start testing his nuclear weapons again. In a new statement, Kim's foreign ministry calls the joint U.S./South Korean military exercises planned for next month a breach of the main spirit of what President Trump and Kim agreed to in Singapore, and says, 'We are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S."
Republican freaks out after Democrat quotes Trump’s racist statement on the floor of Congress
Chaos continued on the floor of the House of Representatives during the debate on a resolution condemning President Donald Trump's racist attacks on four young women of color.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) rose to support the resolution, listing multiple instances of racism from the commander-in-chief.
As part of the list, Swalwell noted Trump's attacks on "sh*thole countries."
After he swore on the floor by quoting the president, Republicans freaked out.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) complained and got in a back-and-forth with Swalwell.
Collins sought to have Swalwell's words stricken from the Congressional Record, which would have banned him from speaking for the rest of the day.