Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has been handed a five-year suspended jail term after being convicted of embezzlement.
The sentence means Navalny, leader of Russia’s Progress Party, will be unable to challenge Vladimir Putin in the country’s 2018 Presidential elections.
In a ruling broadcast online from a court in the city of Kirov, a judge found Navalny guilty of embezzling timber worth around €470,000. Along with the suspended sentence, Navalny was also ordered to pay a 500,000-rouble (€7,896) fine.
Navalny has consistently denied the allegations laid against him, maintaining the charges are politically motivated.
Navalny was found guilty at the end of a retrial ordered after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said a previous hearing that resulted in his conviction was unfair. The ECHR also said the 2013 trial failed to address allegations the charges against Navalny were politically motivated.
The original verdict was condemned by both the EU and the US, and resulted in clashes between supporters of Navalny and police in a number of cities across Russia.
In a blog entry published yesterday, Navalny predicted he would be found guilty, and that his conviction would hinder his political ambitions.
“I definitely know that it is guaranteed to not make political activity easier for me or for other independent politicians and activists,” he wrote.
“Yet another act of intimidation won’t affect everyone, but it will affect some, which is what this is all being done for.”
During breaks in proceedings, Navalny told reporters the ruling was identical to the one handed down at the end of his original trial in 2013. Navalny and his lawyers noted that a printed version of the verdict even contained the same spelling errors that appeared in a transcript of the first ruling.
Navalny said he did not recognise the verdict handed down by the court, and that he would fight for his right to participate in elections, as laid out in Russia’s constitution.
“I will continue to represent the interests of people who want to see Russia a normal, honest and non-corrupt country,” he said.
Despite the verdict, Navalny’s campaign manager said his boss’ bid for the Presidency would continue. Leonid Volkov took to Facebook to say that it will ultimately be the Kremlin’s decision as whether or not Navalny will be able to stand.
According to Russian law, anybody convicted of a serious crime is barred from running for public office for ten years.
A longstanding critic of Putin, Navalny is well known for leading an anti-corruption campaign which has targeted senior officials close to the Kremlin.
After starting to blog about allegations of widespread corruption at state-controlled companies in 2008, he became the public face of a new protest movement that produced huge anti-government demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, and surprised many by securing more than a quarter of the vote when he ran for Mayor of Moscow in 2013.