Russia threatens to prosecute MP who opposed Crimea annexation

26th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russian prosecutors have asked parliament to lift the immunity from prosecution of the only member of Russia's legislature who voted against the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, parliamentary officials said Thursday.

That position made Ilya Ponomaryov, now living in exile in the United States, became a pariah in a legislature that has become little more than a rubber stamp for President Vladimir Putin.

The March 2014 takeover of Crimea, which sparked a deep crisis between Moscow and Western capitals, was portrayed by the Kremlin as a patriotic mission to restore control over historic Russian lands and was highly popular with the public.

In addition to opposing the annexation, the 39-year-old politician was also a prominent organiser and speaker at mass rallies against Putin's return to the presidency in 2012 after a period as prime minister.

He has been living in the United States since last year, saying he was forced to leave after being accused in a civil suit of improperly taking money from a state innovation project.

A senior parliamentary official, Yury Shuvalov, confirmed Thursday that prosecutors requested to lift Ponomaryov's immunity.

In Russia, serving MPs are immune from prosecution. To lift this requires a vote in parliament.

"The speaker has received the documents," Shuvalov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. He said the request was linked to the Skolkovo Foundation, a state innovation project that aims to create a Russian rival to the US tech hotbed Silicon Valley.

Ponomaryov is threatened with prosecution as "an accomplice in embezzlement at Skolkovo Foundation," the lower house of parliament's speaker Sergei Naryshkin told journalists, quoted by RIA Novosti state news agency.

In a civil suit brought by Skolkovo Foundation in 2013, a court ordered Ponomaryov to pay back 2.7 million rubles ($82,000 at the exchange rate of the time) in fees for lectures he allegedly did not carry out adequately. He denied any wrongdoing.

Ponomaryov responded by posting a photo of a defiant "up yours" hand gesture on Facebook.

"Colleagues, don't hurry to say that I won't come back to Russia," he wrote.

"I won't become a political emigre, they can forget that. Undoubtedly, I don't want to make life easier for our security operatives and voluntarily put my head in the noose either. But there won't be any (requests for) political asylum and so on."

Ponomaryov's party, A Just Russia, which is among parties offering token opposition to the Kremlin, excluded him and MPs said they would back lifting his immunity.

Ponomaryov has been living in the United States since last year, saying he was unable to return because his accounts and assets had been frozen over the Skolkovo Foundation case and he was barred from crossing back into Russia.

© 2015 AFP

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