Alexei Navalny hit with new criminal charges over fraud claims that could lead to 10 years in jail

Alexei Navalny at a hearing in Moscow in August 2019 - YURI KOCHETKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
Alexei Navalny at a hearing in Moscow in August 2019 – YURI KOCHETKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Russian investigators have launched a criminal investigation into fraud by Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who survived a near-lethal poisoning, which could lead to up to 10 years in prison if he is convicted.

The late-evening announcement on Tuesday by the Investigative Committee, which deals with high-profile crimes, came a day after Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service issued an ultimatum for the 44-year-old politician to report to his probation officer within less than 24 hours or risk jail.

Mr Navalny, who is still convalescing in Germany after being poisoned with nerve agent Novichok in August, received suspended sentences on two unrelated sets of charges in 2013 and 2014. His probation period ends on Wednesday.

The Investigative Committee said on Tuesday that they have opened a new criminal case against Mr Navalny, suspecting him of fraud.

The investigators claim that he and other unnamed individuals spent about £3.6 million out of £5.9 million collected in donations for an anti-corruption foundation on personal expenses.

The statement did not offer any details such as the time frame for the alleged crimes.

Investigators have looked into donations for Mr Navalny’s foundation in the past but reportedly found no violations.

“I said it before: They were going to try to put me in jail because I didn’t die, because I went looking for my murderers and because I proved that Putin was behind all of this,” Mr Navalny tweeted on Tuesday in response to the announcement.

Russia refused to investigate what happened to the opposition leader in August when he collapsed on a plane from Siberia to Moscow and fell into a coma. Several independent laboratories have since confirmed that he was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve-agent Novichok.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack.

However, independent investigative group Bellingcat published a well-researched investigation earlier this month, identifying Russian intelligence agents who were trailing Mr Navalny for days before the poisoning.

Adding to the embarrassment for the Russian intelligence community, Mr Navalny recently released an audio confession from one of the men allegedly behind the attack.