Not a candidate any more? Navalny received 5-year suspended sentence in Kirovles case

Not a candidate any more? Navalny received 5-year suspended sentence in Kirovles case
Alexey Navalny

Founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation Alexey Navalny received a five-year suspended sentence as a result of the Kirovles case. If the sentence is confirmed on appeal, the politician will not be able to participate in the presidential elections.

Suspended sentence

Judge of the Leninsky Court of Kirov Alexey Vtyurin charged founder of Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) Alexey Navalny with a five-year suspended sentence, reports RBC from the courtroom. The second person involved in the Kirovles case, Pyotr Ofitserov, received a four-year suspended sentence. They must also pay a fine of 500 thousand rubles each, but the court offset the amount they paid for the first Kirovles case. Vtyurin canceled the recognizance not to leave Kirov.

The FBK founder, during the pronouncement of the verdict, noted that the text read by the judge was literally the same as the decision in the first case.

The second process on the Kirovles case began on December 5, and, since January, hearings were held almost every day. Other trials involving the persons of interest were suspended. Navalny explained this rush, by "a fiat from the Kremlin."

Navalny came up to the last hearing with personal belongings that he would have needed in prison in case of deprivation of liberty. "I do not know what it [the sentence] is going to be, but I do know for sure that it is guaranteed not to facilitate political activity: neither specifically mine nor of any other independent politicians and activists. Another act of intimidation won’t work for all, but will for someone, that’s why everything is done," wrote the politician before the hearing.

"What we have seen is a telegram from the Kremlin saying that they do not want us to participate in the elections. It is the way they run their election fight," said Navalny after the verdict was pronounced.

The arguments of prosecution and defense

During the pleadings, prosecutor Sergey Bogdanov asked for Navalny and Ofitserov five years and four years of suspended sentence respectively. As in 2013, Navalny was charged with organization of an assignment or misapplication in the amount of approximately 16 million rubles, and Ofitserov – with aiding and abetting. The theft itself, according to the Prosecutor's Office, was committed by the former director of Kirovles Vyacheslav Opalev. He pleaded guilty and concluded a plea bargain agreement, so he was tried separately and was sentenced to a four-year suspended sentence.

According to the Investigative Committee, in 2009, Navalny, who was then the adviser to Governor of the Kirov Region Nikita Belykh, introduced Opalev to founder of Vyatskaya Lesnaya Kompaniya (VLK) (Vyatka Forest Company) Pyotr Ofitserov. Using his influence, Navalny imposed Opalev a deal unfavorable for Kirovles: Kirovles was supposed to deliver VLK timber at a lower price, and the latter was to resell it at the market price. At that, Kirovles could sell its products itself, said the prosecutor.

On these conditions, Kirovles sold VLK about 10 thousand cubic meters of materials worth nearly 16.2 million rubles. Thus, Navalny, Ofitserov, and Opalev committed theft “in favor of third parties”, said the prosecutor Bogdanov.

The defense, in response, stated that the defendants in the case were tried for "normal business activity", and VLK acted as a mediator during the sale of the timber. Later, this formulation was confirmed by the Strasbourg Court in its judgment. As lawyer Vadim Kobzev noted, unprofitableness of the deal between Kirovles and VLK does not mean its criminal, and the loss of expected gain is not a sign of theft. Navalny himself is convinced that the case materials prove his innocence, and Opalev testified to defame him, as, earlier, there was a conflict between them: as an advisor to the Governor, Navalny criticized the actions of Kirovles’ management and insisted on the audit of the company.

The Kirovles case

The Kirovles case has been investigated since 2009, but Navalny was involved as the person of interest only in mid-2012. Prior to this, the investigators have issued dismissals of charge several times. In March 2013, the Prosecutor's Office, within a day after receipt of the case from the ICR, approved the indictment; five days later the judicial process started off. On July 18 of the same year, Judge Sergey Blinov sentenced Navalny to five years in prison; Ofitserov received four years.

Both were taken into custody in the courtroom and, on the Moscow Manezhnaya Square at the same time, the FBK founder’s supporters started a massive protest. The next day, the Kirov Regional Court quashed this decision, releasing the convicts on the recognizance not to leave before the sentence comes into force. This allowed Navalny to take part in the elections of the mayor of Moscow in September 2013, where he took the second place with 27% of votes. In October 2013, The appeal court has changed the convicts’ sentences with suspended sentences.

Political consequences

Reconsideration of the Kirovles case became possible after the decision of the ECHR which, at the beginning of the last year, acknowledged that the Leninsky Court of Kirov had violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. On the basis of this decision, the Supreme Court, in November 2016, overturned the verdict in the first case and the materials were sent for retrial. The oppositionist and his defense considered that the SC was supposed to justify Navalny instead and that by not doing that Russia de facto refused to comply with the ECHR decision.

A few weeks later, Navalny announced his intention to run for president in 2018.

The punishment requested by the Prosecutor's Office for the FBK founder will not allow Navalny to run for president in 2018: citizens sentenced to imprisonment for serious crimes (which include embezzlement on an especially large scale Navalny was charged with), have no right to participate in elections.

Navalny’s suspended sentence may be optimal for the Kremlin, suggested two sources of RBC close to the Presidential Administration: a federal official and a senior source in the security forces. This kind of punishment will help to avoid public outrage that would be inevitable in the case of deprivation of his liberty, which, at the same time, would also deprive the opposition politician to continue his campaign.

For the authorities, it would be convenient if the court proceedings on Navalny’s case, including the consideration of the complaint against the verdict to a higher court, ended before the official start of the presidential campaign. This, in particular, explains the hasty examination of the case in court, think the RBC interlocutors.

Navalny himself, in conversation with RBC, indicated that he would continue to fight for the presidency, regardless of the court decision. "We proceed from the fact that the ban on participation in the elections is unconstitutional. The Constitution says that only the people who are in prison have no right to participate in election," said the politician.

Why Kremlin does not want Navalny to participate in elections?

Navalny’s possible admission for the elections "was not seriously discussed" in the Kremlin, said the source of RBC close to the Presidential Administration. According to him, "entirely expert and administrative machinery game" was taking place: some spin doctors offer a scenario of his participation in the campaign in order to demonstrate the liberalism of  Kremlin.

This is also not about any serious increase in a voter turnout if Navally is admitted to the elections, as well as one cannot talk about some intrigue, the RBC interlocutor says: "This (the politician’s participation in elections - RBC) is an intrigue for a very small number of people across the country. In fact, the main intrigue is different: how many votes will the main candidate get." "So, spending the President’s political resource on Navalny" makes no sense, sums up the source of RBC.

A source close to the leadership of the country told RBC thinking that the oppositionist’s participation in the campaign will create more intrigue and, accordingly, increase the turnout is an exaggeration: "This is an intrigue for five thousand people." The talks about the fact that Navalny’s nomination legitimizes the campaign are also unjustified, continues the interlocutor of RBC: "Anyone who wants to shout that the elections are illegitimate, will do so in any case", he says.

Navalny’s participation in the elections would create a dangerous situation for the government, says Deputy Director of the Center for Political Technologies Alexey Makarkin. "Presidential elections lead to the fact that a person gains popularity, the interest to him grows. These days, Navalny appears on television as an object for media exposure, and, mostly, they speak for him. But, if he becomes a candidate, he will be speaking for himself. And he will be talking about things quite popular and reasonable for a large number of voters," said the political analyst.

The danger is not in Navalny’s possible victory, but in the fall of confidence in the re-elected president, Makarkin said: "After the election, the president will have to make unpopular reforms. For example, raise the retirement age. In this situation, promoting one of the most active critics of the government, who also does not belong to just a general liberal circles, but holds anti-corruption positions, is hardly appropriate."

Even if Navalny was acquitted, he "would have had big problems with the collection of three hundred thousand signatures" necessary for the nomination for president, says the director of the International Institute of Political Expertise Evgeny Minchenko. According to him, the participation of oppositionist in the elections "would not bring any special bonuses for the stability of the system."

The Kremlin has no concerns about Navalny’s participation or non-participation in the elections of the Russian president in 2018, said the President's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday, 8 February.

Legal Consequences

In December, Navalny appealed to the Council of Europe Russia’s failure to comply with the ECHR decisions on the Kirovles case. Prior to the appeal, the Council of Europe has no reason to consider Navalny’s complaint to be fair, said to RBC head of the international human rights group Agora Paul Chikov. According to him, so far, the authorities' actions are within the procedure that the state should comply with in the event if Strasbourg finds the violation of the citizen's right to a fair trial.

"ECHR did not say that Navalny has to be justified; it said that the court wrongly assessed his actions, explains Chikov. - Since the procedural rules were violated, the process should be repeated. And that is what we are witnessing." At the same time, the European Council may adopt certain sanctions against Russia if the new sentence will demonstrably severe, said the lawyer.

The punishment for non-fulfillment of the ECHR decision for Russia can be different - from "the penalty for violation of the European Convention to the exclusion of the Council of Europe," commented lawyer Anna Stavitskaya. However, now, it is impossible to predict the consequences, because "as of now, the Council of Europe have not recognized anyone fully failed to comply with the judgment of the ECHR," adds the lawyer Oleg Anishchik.

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