Prosecutors seek sentence barring Putin foe from election

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (centre) is escorted by Moscow bailiffs to a car from the Anti-Corruption Foundation headed by Navalny in Moscow, Russia, on Jan 31, 2017.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (centre) is escorted by Moscow bailiffs to a car from the Anti-Corruption Foundation headed by Navalny in Moscow, Russia, on Jan 31, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian prosecutors at a retrial of opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Friday (Feb 3) called for him to be slapped with a five-year suspended sentence that would bar him from the 2018 presidential race.

Navalny, a Kremlin critic and corruption whistleblower, wrote on Twitter that for the court "it's important just to ban me from participating in the elections."

In December, he wrong-footed the Kremlin by announcing his intention to run for president in 2018, while President Vladimir Putin has yet to confirm his expected participation.

Navalny was convicted of embezzlement in 2013 in the provincial city of Kirov in a case involving a state timber company.

Back then the firebrand politician received a five-year sentence suspended on appeal that would prevent him standing for office and which he and his supporters condemned as politically motivated.

He filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which ruled a year ago that the defendants had been deprived of a fair trial and ordered Russia to lift their convictions.

In a decision that frustrated Navalny, Russia's Supreme Court then ruled that he and his co-defendant must stand trial again in the same city on the same charges.

On Friday the Prosecutors called for a fresh five-year suspended sentence for Navalny at his retrial, the RAPSI legal news agency confirmed.

"They just need to give me back the sentence that the ECHR cancelled," Navalny wrote on Twitter.

Prosecutors also asked for a repeated four-year suspended term for Navalny's co-accused, businessman Pyotr Ofitserov, RAPSI reported.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday declined to comment on the trial, saying the president was too busy to follow the case.

In his final speech to the court posted on his website, Navalny vowed he would continue his election bid.

"I consider I have the moral and legal right to take part in these elections," he said, adding that if found guilty, he would repeat the same steps to get the sentence quashed "before the official start of the campaign".

"Any person who isn't in jail has the right to stand in elections," he told the court.

Navalny, a 40-year-old lawyer, came to fame with punchy oratory at mass rallies in 2011 and 2012 against Putin's return to the Kremlin.

He wowed crowds with catchphrases such as "Putin is a thief" although his anti-immigration stance alienated some liberals.

He has been targeted in a number of legal probes and spent months under house arrest.

Navalny came second in Moscow's 2012 mayoral race after taking to the streets with a Western-style campaign against a Kremlin-backed incumbent.

The court will render its verdict in the retrial on Feb 8, RAPSI reported.