Putin foe: Criminal conviction ‘a telegram from the Kremlin’

The leader of the Russian opposition was convicted Wednesday of embezzlement, jeopardizing his plans to challenge Vladimir Putin in the 2018 presidential campaign.

Alexei Navalny, a lawyer and blogger who heads Russia’s Progress Party, called the verdict a “telegram from the Kremlin” that copied — “down to the typos” — the verdict from his first trial in 2013. That verdict also drew a rebuke from the European Court of Human Rights, which found Russia violated Navalny and codefendant Pyotr Ofitserov’s rights to a fair trial. The Russian Supreme Court ordered a new trial last year.

“We will continue our campaign and fight for the best Russia in spite of the sentence dictated by the Kremlin,” Navalny tweeted after Wednesday’s verdict. “We do not recognize it and it will be canceled.”

Navalny is expected to receive a suspended sentence. Under Russian law, a person cannot run for president for 10 years after a guilty verdict, unless it is scrapped by a higher court, RT reported.

However, Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova said the constitution bars convicted Russian citizens from election if they are serving a term in jail, not a suspended term. Navalny said he will continue his campaign.

Navalny started his political career as an activist who bought small amounts of stock in large companies, then pressed for investigations of fraud and mismanagement. He later targeted government figures and was a leader of a series of large-scale, anti-government rallies in 2012.

The 2013 conviction may have damaged Navalny’s failed run for mayor of Moscow. Navalny spent 15 days in custody in 2015 for handing out leaflets in the Moscow subway that promoted an opposition rally.

Navalny and his backers dismissed his legal troubles as a sham.

“Thank you all for your support,” he tweeted to his supporters. “Putin and his gang of thieves are afraid to meet us in the elections … We will we win.”