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Russia indicts protest leader Navalny in fraud case

Russian investigators moved to indict protest leader Alexei Navalny in a fraud and laundering case Tuesday, just days after he walked out of another case with a suspended term.

Navalny and his brother Oleg “stole” a total of 30 million rubles and laundered 21 million rubles from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher and a Russian firm MPK, the powerful Investigative Committee said, formally presenting the charges.

The indictment follows a protracted investigation into a company belonging to Navalny and his brother, which Alexei Navalny dismissed as persecution of his political activities.

It also comes just days after 37-year-old Navalny was released with a suspended term on October 16 in another case which saw him convicted of stealing in a timber deal.

In April, investigators launched a probe against Navalny and his younger brother Oleg, accusing them of fraud against MPK, whom they allegedly “convinced” to “sign a deliberately unprofitable contract” which resulted in the firm losing 3.8 million rubles.

This MPK probe was then combined with an earlier case, in which the Navalnys were indicted last December. That earlier probe accused them of embezzling 55 million rubles, the amount their company received from Yves Rocher for transportation services.

The investigators’ statement on Tuesday gave new figures, saying the Navalnys stole 26 million rubles from Yves Rocher and four million rubles from MPK, and then embezzled a total of 21 million rubles.

The charges are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The opposition leader denounced the latest indictment as “nonsense” but predicted another protracted trial is on the horizon.

“Of course we will see another case,” he told the Echo of Moscow radio. “And then another, since they believe that it makes a big impression on me that they can always keep an open case running that can be used to put me in prison for a long time.”

The opposition politician rose to prominence during the massive anti-Vladimir Putin protests in the winter of 2011-12.

He won 27 percent in September polls for Moscow mayor against a Kremlin-backed incumbent, proving himself as a serious political contender in the capital.

His brother is not involved in politics, keeping a low profile as an employee in Russia’s postal service company Russian Post, and first emerged to a wider public when news broke of the prosecution.