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Prosecution witness queries Navalny charge at trial

A prosecution witness at the trial of Alexei Navalny on Wednesday queried whether the Russian opposition leader had the professional clout to have carried out the alleged embezzlement for which he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Navalny, a charismatic star speaker at mass protest rallies who has declared an ambition to stand for president, is accused of causing a loss of half a million dollars to a regional government in a timber deal.

But when called to the stand, the first deputy chairman of the Kirov regional government, Sergei Shcherchkov, questioned Navalny’s authority, dealing an embarrassing blow to the prosecution.

The trial was resuming Wednesday after a break this month for Russia’s May holidays. Navalny has denounced the charge, which is one of a handful of legal probes against him, as politically motivated.

Cross-examined by Navalny, who is himself a lawyer, Shcherchkov questioned whether Navalny had the authority to force state timber company Kirovles sell its timber at a low price to a private company with which he was in cahoots, as the prosecution claims.

“He was not an official. He could not have controlled the work of the (Kirovles) enterprise,” Shcherchkov said, quoted by the RAPSI legal news agency.

“He was tasked by the governor to work on the organisation, therefore he gave his ideas on how to develop Kirovles,” said Shcherchkov, describing Navalny’s job.

He added that Navalny worked in a shared office in the regional government, a sign of low status.

“I knew for sure that you did not have any powers. But I’m not sure that everyone clearly understood what your status was,” he told Navalny in court.

Navalny acted as an unpaid advisor to Kirov regional governor Nikita Belykh, a former opposition politician, at the time of the alleged embezzlement in 2009.

Navalny’s legal team also asked the judge to rule that a police search of his headquarters in Kirov for “extremist materials” last week was illegal, but judge Sergei Blinov refused to do so.