Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, is facing new charges that could lengthen his sentence by 15 years.
With the international community and media outlets focused on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the 45-year-old anti-corruption activist’s trial quietly entered its third day on Tuesday, February 22.
The founder of the FBK, the anti-corruption organization that conducted dozens of investigations into Russian officials and political elites, including President Vladimir Putin, is already serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for violating his parole for a previous suspended conviction by traveling abroad.
Navalny was imprisoned upon his arrival in Moscow in January 2021 from Germany, where he had been taken for treatment while in a coma and recovering from a poisoning attack. Navalny’s allies and Western intelligence agencies believe the Novichok nerve agent attack was organized with Kremlin approval by Russia’s FSB security service, a claim Moscow has repeatedly refuted.
According to MediaZona, an independent news outlet that focuses on Russia’s judicial and penal systems, the offsite hearings in the new case are taking place inside the Pokrov correctional facility, where Navalny is serving his current sentence.
Prosecutors accuse Navalny of misappropriating more than $33,000 in donations made to his organizations and using the funds for his own personal gain, charges that Navalny and his supporters deny and claim are politically motivated.
The new charges against Navalny, which include four counts of major fraud and two counts of contempt of court, could mean another 15 years in prison for him. The majority of the charges are based on complaints from a few donors who, according to Navalny’s associates, were coerced into testifying against him.
On Monday, February 21, a key prosecution witness, Fyodor Gorozhanko, a former FBK employee, testified that the case against Navalny is “absurd,” adding that “he is speaking as a witness for the defense” despite being the prosecution’s witness.
Gorozhanko stated that he testified “under duress,” and he refused to appear in court on the third day of the trial. The highly unusual closed-door hearing, held inside a maximum-security prison in the Vladimir region town of Pokrov, has been criticized by human rights groups and described as a “sham” by Navalny’s allies and legal representatives.
While Russian law does not prohibit such offsite trials in principle, no official explanation was provided in the court papers as to why this decision was made in this case.
According to Navalny’s supporters, the move is part of an effort to limit media coverage of the proceedings. Newsweek has requested clarification from the Lefortovo District Court.
However, some journalists were permitted to observe the hearing via video-link from a separate room, but they were not permitted to use recording equipment. According to a transcript of the judge’s response published by MediaZona, Navalny’s lawyers were also barred from bringing electronic equipment, including laptops with case files, because it is illegal to bring electronic equipment under the penitentiary’s rules.
Yulia Navalnaya, the anti-corruption activist’s wife, was seen hugging her husband during last week’s proceedings, which she was allowed to attend after making a public appeal to the authorities.
Alexei’s younger brother, Oleg Navalny, who was serving a one-year suspended sentence for violating coronavirus pandemic restrictions, was ordered jailed in absentia by another Moscow court for allegedly violating the terms of his suspended sentence. He did not attend the trial. According to court documents obtained by news organizations, he visited Cyprus in September of last year and did not return to Russia.
In recent years, most of Alexey Navalny’s associates have been labeled “extremists” and charged, with many forced to flee Russia. The Kremlin maintains that the prosecutions are not politically motivated.
Despite his imprisonment, Navalny was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. He previously urged the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs in order to “hit Putin where it hurts.”