Russian Opposition Leader Asserts Innocence at Trial

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MOSCOW -- Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader and one of the most prominent politicians to go on trial in modern Russia, used his first full day in court on Wednesday to say the trial would prove his innocence, even if the judge convicted him.

The trial, streamed on the Internet, has promised to be an important touchstone in President Vladimir V. Putin's long career, as prosecutors have not previously indicted a high profile politician. But it has gotten off to a languid start.

It began last week in the provincial city of Kirov, east of Moscow. But within an hour of opening, Judge Sergei A. Blinov granted a request by the defense lawyers for an adjournment so they could better prepare for trial. They requested a month, he gave them a week and they appealed.

A higher court on Tuesday rejected that appeal, clearing the way for opening statements to begin on Wednesday. Mr. Navalny, who is a lawyer, spoke at times in his own defense.

"I am certain my innocence will be clear to everybody who is present in this chamber and everybody watching," Mr. Navalny told the court, according to a transcript posted by the Rapsi legal news agency. "To all those involved in the illegal investigation, sooner or later you will face a severe but just punishment."

Others who have challenged Mr. Putin have faced prosecution, most notably the Yukos oil tycoon, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, who remains in prison. But the case against Mr. Navalny is the first in post-Soviet Russia against a high-profile political figure.

Mr. Navalny is charged with embezzling $500,000 from a state-controlled timber company in Kirov while working as an adviser to the regional governor in 2009.

Prosecutors initially dismissed the case. But federal officials revived it after Mr. Navalny became the most prominent leader of the street protests in Moscow last year.

He used his first day in court for a flurry of motions seemingly intended to highlight the apparent absurdity of a four-year-old case in a provincial city far from Moscow surfacing in the wake of last winter's protests, but ostensibly unrelated to the street protests. A spokesman for the Investigative Committee, a branch of the prosecutor's office, said in an interview in Izvestia newspaper that investigators focused on Mr. Navalny because he was accusing state officials of corruption while claiming to be "clean" himself.

Mr. Navalny objected that the key witness against him, Vyacheslav Opalev, the former boss of a state timber company, is a man who by all likelihood has an ulterior motive for accusing him of criminal acts; Mr. Navalny had once advised the regional governor to liquidate Mr. Opalev's company and dismiss its director.

"I don't understand how a case can be built on the testimony of one man who, in fact at my initiative, was deprived of his job," Mr. Navalny said.

Mr. Navalny's lawyers also asked for another delay, according to the Rapsi report.

They also asked the judge to order the prosecutor general to withdraw the case for additional investigation to clarify ambiguities.

Mr. Navalny asked the prosecutor whether he was accused of stealing $500,000 worth of timber or the cash proceeds from the sale of the timber. The prosecution declined to specify, according to the transcript.

In a telephone interview, Olga Mikhailova, Mr. Navalny's lead lawyer, called the adjournment requests more than just typical early legal maneuvers in a trial. Seemingly every day, she said, documents have been showing up in the already voluminous file without the court's providing time for the defense team to study them. The file against Mr. Navalny, she said, had grown to 32 binders, from 28 binders, just in the past two weeks.

The trial will resume Thursday.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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