Russia launches new fraud probe against Kremlin opponent Navalny

Russian investigators on Tuesday launched a criminal investigation into Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, claiming he used more than 356 million rubles ($ 4.8 million) in donations to his personal organizations, including holidays abroad.

The commission of inquiry, which is investigating major crimes, said in a statement that the money was part of more than 588 million rubles Navalny had collected “exclusively” for its non-profit organizations, including the Anti-Corruption Fund.

The committee said Navalny used the money to acquire “personal property (and) tangible assets and to pay for expenses (including vacations abroad).”

“In this way, the funds raised from the citizens have been stolen,” the committee added, saying it had opened a criminal case of “particularly large-scale fraud”.

The fee carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison.

Navalny, 44, is currently recovering from a poisoning attempt in Germany. He has said he will return to Russia once his health is restored.

In August, the Kremlin critic became violently ill during a flight from Siberia to Moscow and was hospitalized in the city of Omsk before being transferred to Berlin by medical aircraft.

Experts in several Western countries concluded that he was poisoned by the Soviet Novichok nerve agent – a claim that Moscow has repeatedly denied.

Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, has said that the largest security agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), was behind the poisoning led by President Vladimir Putin.

On Tuesday, Navalny described the new criminal probe against him as “invented by Putin.”

“Well, I immediately said they will try to put me in jail because I did not die” of the poisoning, he wrote on Twitter.

Navalny has previously been accused of fraud.

In February 2014, he was accused of fraud and money laundering and spent almost a year under house arrest before receiving a temporary sentence in December of that year.

Last year, Europe’s highest courts ruled that Russia had violated Navalny’s rights with the case.

(AFP)