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Russia sends businessman back to jail in controversial case

A Moscow court on Thursday sent a businessman back to jail after a retrial of a controversial fraud case that had become a rallying cause for the nascent Russian protest movement.

Alexei Kozlov was sentenced to five years in jail and was immediately placed under arrest in the courthouse, an AFP correspondent reported.

The businessman had initially been convicted and jailed in 2009 on charges of fraudulent ownership of shares in a company but a retrial was ordered in 2011 after a passionate campaign maintaining his innocence led by his wife.

Kozlov has always argued he was framed by a former business partner who at the time was a senator in the upper house of parliament, and who he says wanted to seize the holding he owned in the company.

Such criminal cases usually go unnoticed in Russia, but Kozlov’s cause was championed by his wife Olga Romanova, a journalist with the opposition Novaya Gazeta and a leading activist in the protest movement against Vladimir Putin.

Kozlov’s plight was one of the main issues discussed by speakers at last Saturday’s mass protest against Putin that followed his March 4 victory in presidential elections.

Romanova and rights activists say his case is a symbol of the plight of thousands of other Russians who are jailed each year for white collar crime after being set up by more powerful enemies.

Kozlov was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2009, a verdict then reduced to five years. But in a rare move the supreme court quashed the verdict in September 2011 and ordered the retrial. Kozlov meanwhile was set free.