The anti-corruption crusader and best hope of the Russian race Navalny will be on trial for embezzlement on April 17th. And it has to be admitted that even many of us who tend to look at the liberal opposition’s claims of repression with a healthy degree of skepticism are now “plagued by vague suspicions.”
It’s just too convenient. After all, there are now a total of four criminal cases against him, three of them potential (SPS, Yves Roche, Post of Russia) and one in process (Kirovles). Most of them appear to be pretty flimsy. It’s as if the Investigative Committee read through the entire book of his life and placed a laser-like focus on every spelling and grammatical error. Which the IC itself acknowledges:
Interviewer: But if the case didn’t have Navalny, then, probably, the case itself wouldn’t exist?
Vladimir Markin, IC spokesman: Perhaps, it would not have happened so quickly, because unfortunately the numbers and energy of our investigators are quite limited. In an ordinary case of embezzlement and misappropriation perhaps our hands wouldn’t have reached in so quickly. But if the person in question draws attention to himself with all his strength, or we can even say, teases authority – saying that oh I am so white and flawless, then the interest in his past increases and the process of exposing it to the sunlight, understandably, accelerates.
Yet with all that said, the fact of this vastly intensified scrutiny being politically motivated does not – as with Khodorkovsky – absolve the defendant of guilt should he actually have committed the crimes in question. And here is where an objective appraisal of the case parts ways with the narrative that has been presented by the liberal opposition and Western media, which asserts that the case against Navalny has been invented out of thin air on Putin’s orders.
After all, stealing 15 million rubles of timber should, at least in theory, be as bad if done by Navalny as if done by any random Nashist – and as deserving of punishment. IF he did actually steal them. But how to find out if he did?
You could do a lot worse than avoiding the media din, and instead systemically reading through the documents and arguments offered by both sides. Here are the more important sources I have identified:
- The 99 pages of Investigative Committee’s indictment, leaked by Navalny himself, with a few of his own counter-commentaries attached.
- The documents and legal analyses released by Navalny in his defense at http://navalny.ru/kirovles/.
- The legal NGO Agora’s legal analysis of the case (incidentally, Khrunova, the lawyer who took over the Pussy Riot case and managed to get Samutsevich released, is a member).
- Two legal analyses published at Stanislav Apetyan’s Politrash blog, by the lawyers Ilya Remeslo and Jan Strigov.
The only problem? All this material is in Russian. But despair not! For your fearless Leader (aka myself) is going to do this for you in the coming days, and write informative posts and articles on the basis of his discoveries.
I will not write a lot right now, but there are four things I wish to clear up from the beginning, to set down the correct channels about how to think about the case.
(1) At the most basic level, the allegation is that Navalny, in concert with Ofitserov, set up a shell company to criminally enrich themselves. Originally, Kirovles, a state company headed by Opalev, had a set of agreements with its customers to supply them with timber. Under pressure from Navalny, who was an adviser to Governor Belykh, these agreements were torn up and rewritten at the same prices, but with their shell company as the new partner. Kirovles, in its turn, sold the same amount of timber to the shell company, but at lower prices. The difference, presumably, was pocketed by Navalny and Ofitserov. This scheme only lasted four months before there was a scandal and Opalev was evicted from Kirovles.
(2) It is not clear that this, even if true, would constitute outright theft. As Politrash’s second lawyer Strigov argues, the charges then would not be Article 160, part 4 of the Criminal Code (theft/хищение) – as per the Investigative Committee – but Article 165, part 2 (causing financial loss by way of deceit and misuse of trust/Причинение имущественного ущерба путем обмана или злоупотребления доверием).
(3) There are dozens of witnesses testifying that they were pressured into rewriting timber supply contracts from Kirovles to Navalny and Ofitserov’s shell company. For his part, Navalny alleges that he had nothing to do with the shell company and was only marginally acquainted with Ofitserov. The evidence within the IC’s indictment however overwhelmingly suggests that this was the not case on both counts. Navalny would have been wiser to focus his defense on proving that the shell company did not do anything illegal, as opposed to (falsely) disavowing any involvement with it, and I do not know if it’s now too late to change tactics.
PS. More links:
- Navalny’s interview with gazeta.ru
- Interview with a Kirov judge who knows the judge on Navalny’s case
- Interview with Pyotr Ofitserov
- Journalist Oleg Lurie’s article on the Navalny case