Kremlin critic Navalny given suspended sentence, brother jailed

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny (right) talks to his brother and co-defendant Oleg before a court hearing in Moscow on Dec 19, 2014. A Russian court ruled on Tuesday, Dec 30, 2014, to give Alexei Navalny a su
Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny (right) talks to his brother and co-defendant Oleg before a court hearing in Moscow on Dec 19, 2014. A Russian court ruled on Tuesday, Dec 30, 2014, to give Alexei Navalny a suspended sentence for embezzling money but jailed Oleg for three and a half years in a case seen as part of a campaign to stifle dissent. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - A Russian court ruled on Tuesday to give Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny a suspended sentence for embezzling money but jailed his brother for three and a half years in a case seen as part of a campaign to stifle dissent.

Navalny led mass protests against President Vladimir Putin three years ago, when tens of thousands took to the streets in Moscow and St Petersburg to protest against corruption in Putin's government and inner circle.

The Navalny brothers were accused of stealing 30 million roubles, or around US$500,000 (S$ 662,500) under the current exchange rate, from two firms, including an affiliate of the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher, between 2008 and 2012.

Tuesday's ruling will come as a relief for Navalny's supporters after prosecutors asked that he be imprisoned for 10 years.

The Kremlin denies allegations that it uses the courts to persecute opponents. "Aren't you ashamed of what you are doing?" Navalny told the court and judge Yelena Korobchenko. "Why are you putting him (my brother Oleg) in prison? To punish me even harder?" Navalny said.

Currently under house arrest, Alexei Navalny is serving another suspended five-year jail term for a separate conviction last year, which critics also called a sham.

His supporters have promised to hold a protest on the Manezh Square in front of the Kremlin on Tuesday evening.