Russian protest leader: trial will show innocence

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Associated Press

Posted on April 24, 2013 at 6:34 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 24 at 6:34 AM

KIROV, Russia (AP) — A prominent Russian opposition leader on trial for embezzlement said Wednesday that his innocence will be obvious for all to see by the end of the proceedings, even if the court finds him guilty.

Alexei Navalny, who led protests against President Vladimir Putin and exposed alleged corruption in government, is accused of heading an organized criminal group that embezzled 16 million rubles ($500,000) worth of timber from a state-owned company while working as an adviser to the Kirov provincial governor in 2009.

The charges, which strike at the essence of Navalny's image as an anti-corruption activist, threaten to send him to prison for 10 years and would ban him from running for public office. Navalny has declared his intent to run for president.

Navalny insists the charges are revenge for his exposure of high-level corruption and are intended to silence him.

"At the end of the trial, we will certainly win," Navalny said when he arrived in the northwestern city of Kirov on the overnight train from Moscow. "I'm sure that a lack of guilt will be established. Even if it is not formally acknowledged by the court, it will be clear for everyone who attends the trial."

A Navalny supporter put up a large white sign in front of the courthouse saying "Putin is a Thief" in large letters.

Also on trial is Pyotr Ofitserov, a father of five, who ran a timber trading company in Kirov during Navalny's time in the region.

The trial began a week ago, but was quickly adjourned until Wednesday at the request of the defense, which said Navalny and his legal team had not been given enough time to read the case files.

Judge Sergei Blinov on Wednesday dismissed a claim by Navalny's lawyer who insisted that the case be sent back to prosecutors, citing a lack of specifics and inconsistencies. Blinov said it was "immaterial" a claim that the indictment against Navalny and his alleged accomplice lists conflicting figures of the amount of damage caused.

Navalny and Ofitserov's lawyers also argued for the removal of Blinov, saying that in just two days of the trial he had already compromised his position. The judge "had sided with the prosecutors and in fact acted as a 'defense attorney' for the prosecutors who had failed to conduct a proper investigation and shape up the indictment," Olga Mikhailova told the court.

That motion was also dismissed.

"The investigators have become confused and can't even determine what damage was caused," said Ilya Yashin, a prominent opposition activist who was among a group of Navalny supporters who traveled to Kirov from Moscow. "The numbers are different and they are contradictory."

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Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.

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