Russian authorities have charged anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny with embezzlement. The blogger, who helped spearhead anti-Kremlin protests earlier this year, has said the charges against him are "absurd."
Russia's Federal Investigative Committee said on Tuesday that Navalny, a lawyer, faced an embezzelment probe over advice he gave unofficially in 2009 to a state-owned timber firm in Russia's central Kirov region.
The committee said Navalny had been ordered to stay in Moscow until his trial begins.
The case, which had been dropped in the past, carries a potential jail term of five to ten years. Earlier this month, the committee's chief investigator Alexander Bastrykin had demanded a review of the case in comments broadcast on state television.
In prosecution documents released Tuesday, losses accrued by the timber firm from a deal with another firm amounted to 16 million rubles (405,000 euro). Initially, losses were put at only 1.3 million rubles.
Charges strange, says Navalny
Emerging from the courtroom in Moscow on Tuesday, a pale-looking Navalny accused authorities of fabricating accusations against him.
"Something absolutely absurd and very strange has happened because they have completely changed the story behind the charge," he said. "I cannot imagine how the investigators can prove this. But probably they will prove it."
Aside from embezzlement, he is also charged with being an accomplice to a crime.
According to the news agency AFP, Navalny is not accused of profiting personally in the case but misleading the local governor, Nikita Belyhk, who himself had dismissed the case as a form of political pressure.
In the past, the 36-year-old Navalny had achieved cult status within Russia's Internet community for his campaign against state corruption.
Prosecutions against dissenters
In a separate case on Monday, Russian authorities opened the trial against three members of a Russian female punk band "Pussy Riot" who had protested against Putin inside a Moscow cathedral in February.
The trio could be jailed for up to seven years, if convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility."
ipj/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa)