The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia
Alexei Navalny

They Will Lock Up Many More

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny will be put on trial April 17 on charges of embezzlement

The founder of the RosPil anti-corruption foundation spoke to The New Times about the possible outcome of his trial, the evidence in his criminal case, and what he will take with him to prison, if he is convicted. Most observers see this as politicized persecution, a way of stopping the country’s most prominent and successful anti-corruption campaigner by portraying him as a hypocrite. As Navalny writes, it may also be a way of preventing him from running for office. He weighs the possibility of his going to prison.

What is really striking is all the fuss that’s been made over the trial, which starts on April 17 in Kirov, in which I’m one of the defendants accused of putting together a criminal organization that conspired to steal lumber and sawdust from the company Kirovles, and actually stole that stuff worth about 16 million rubles. After the notorious Khodorkovsky case, the Pussy Riot case, the 16 people convicted under the Bolotnaya case, the tens of thousands arrested under fabricated cases, the acquittal rate of 0.4 percent – after all this, a statement about a Kafkaesque trial sounds so incredibly trivial.

Okay, they put together a case, opened three more cases, and there is a chance they will put me behind bars. But that’s what I’ve been hearing for the last four years — that they will lock me up. Moreover, after the “Vote for Any Party Except for the Party of Crooks and Thieves” campaign was launched, they talked about it every 10 seconds. Do I think about it? Yes, I do. Do I want to go to jail? I don’t think anybody wants to. Do Putin and Bastrykin dream of sending me to a prison camp? The truth is they really want me to run away. That’s exactly why, back in July, when charges were brought against me, I was given a week’s notice, because they knew I had tickets to Portugal, where my family ended up spending the vacation without me. And this is exactly why now they also notified me in advance, that there would be no preliminary hearing – which, by the way, is a direct violation of the law – and that the trial would start immediately.

Well, get this: I am not going to run away, I am not going to emigrate. I have a family, two kids, criminal cases against my parents, my brother. Almost all of my relatives’ and friends’ apartments were searched. Everything in life has a price.

About the case

The most ridiculous thing about this case is that all the evidence the prosecution came up with is in fact the evidence in my defense. The 60 witnesses for the prosecution are essentially the witnesses for the defense. Well, except, maybe Mr. Opalev (the director of Kirovles back in 2009-2010). The investigators listened to my phone conversations and looked through my emails, in which I suggested to my co-defendant, Mr. Pyotr Ofitserov, that he open a Gmail account – the fact from which they drew their conclusion that I set up a criminal group and then attempted to conceal some illicit financial schemes.

They have zero evidence. They say: “You have embezzled 16 million rubles.” Mr. Ofitserov produces some payment documents showing that the Vyatka Lumber Company (VLC) paid Kirovles 15 million rubles, and the balance due is subject to arbitration. The investigators reply: the VLC, which, by the way, was only 2 per cent of the total Kirovles turnover, was buying lumber at artificially low prices. Meanwhile, there is no merchandising or accounting assessment related to the 16 million rubles. How did they come up with that number? How was it calculated?

Under the criminal case that was closed in April, there were two evaluations, both disputed by us. According to one, the damage was 1.2 million rubles; according to the other, it was 589,000 rubles. So, how did that new damage come to light without any evaluation? And upon whom was that damage inflicted? We still do not have an affected party that actually sustained the loss. How was it determined that the price, that was in fact a market average, was artificially low? That is still a mystery.

I have no idea how they are going to try to prove the fact of embezzlement. Of course, we will make our motions, demand new assessment, we will come up with our calculations, et cetera, but I wouldn’t get my hopes too high.

About a possible verdict

It’s quite clear that Mr. Bastrykin will make sure that the case he personally oversaw does not fall apart in court. There are two options: probation or imprisonment. The first option would mean they opted for a Belorussian scenario of fighting the opposition. In Belarus, those who were once arrested for “administrative” offenses — that is, for participating in opposition rallies or demonstrations — cannot stand for elections. In Russia, they made an amendment to the Election Law according to which persons convicted for especially serious crimes are barred from standing for elections for life. This is exactly why they came up with that 16 million figure, which brings it under the category of embezzlement on a very large scale. This is how they are trying to achieve that quite practical goal of making sure that Navalny cannot participate in the elections either for Moscow City Duma, or for the Mayor of Moscow.

Add to that a travel ban that precludes me from traveling around the country. Besides, any misdemeanor (“administrative”) arrest for participating in an unauthorized protest rally, which carries 15 days in jail, is considered violation of probation and they put you behind bars. In other words: stay put, stay home, don’t get involved in anything. That big stick is hanging over your head.

Also, there is another criminal case, “Glavpodpiska,” in which I am a defendant, as well as my brother. There they can summon you for questioning as often as they wish, seize documents, et cetera, until all those attorneys’ fees devastate you financially.

“The truth is they really want me to run away. Well, get this: I am not going to run away, I am not going to emigrate. Everything in life has a price”.

The second option is imprisonment, which in my case could be up to 10 years. I hope it will be a medium security prison. I don’t think they’ll go for maximum security. I am prepared for that. I’ve got things in order, assigned property, discussed everything with my wife many times over. If they lock me up, so be it. I hope you will stand by my side. But, of course, I am not too excited about that prospect.

About the authorities

Why would Putin want me locked up? (I have no doubt that he personally oversees my case.) I think the logic is obvious: he and his entourage have to cling to power. And the only mechanism whereby they still manage to stay in power is to put people behind bars. And that’s what they do.

I’m not the first one, and unfortunately won’t be the last. It has to be expected that they will jail many more. They have stolen billions, and they know that people are outraged, that millions of people share my sentiment towards them. So they are trying to protect themselves. Look at what’s happening in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. The same methods everywhere. So, Putin follows the example of Lukashenko, Nazarbayev, Karimov. This will go on in Russia as long as they are empowered to jail people, as long as they can get away with this. This will go on until a million people take to the streets.

The first major rally at Bolotnaya Square scared them. They declared a political reform, resorted to intimidation, set in motion their PR campaigns. People became afraid to take to the streets, so they wrapped up that reform right away. Until the situation turns really scary for them, they will continue to lock people up.

About the plans

What will I take to jail? Slippers, some athletic pants, underwear and socks, velcro sneakers. In your magazine, you gave a million suggestions on what should be in that “jail bag.” The family photo that I will hang over my bunk I will get later, but the sneakers without laces you would need to have in the courtroom, in case they take you into custody right there.

Let’s not dramatize the situation. Millions have been through that. At this moment the prison population exceeds 800,000 people. If worse comes to worst, I will be one of them. Of course, I understand that you cannot always keep your cool and be completely prepared for that.

How  will I spend my time behind bars? Well, you know, the usual. Translate the Bible from German and learn that language in the process. What else? Learn Chinese and read a hundred thousand books. Well, all those things you normally do in jail. The reality is, it’s pretty tough in there, so you might not have an opportunity to read a hundred thousand books.

So, what should I expect? Of course, I would like to spend time like in a detention center: climb an upper bunk closer to the light bulb, get a bunch of books and read all day long. Okay, yes, the cockroaches, it’s filthy, everybody smokes, they feed you some kind of garbage — but you can survive there. But the prison camp can be much worse. It’s cold and disgusting and they make you do things; you try to stand up for your rights, they put you in some concrete hole, where you have nothing to sit down on.

I think a lot about Khodorkovsky. I would have to move there from my 75-square meter apartment in Maryino. Imagine his situation. Mansions, five-star hotels, private jet and all the other things a billionaire is used to. Quite a change of scene. Will I change my discourse? Of course not. This is exactly why people support me – I call things by their true names. I treasure what I have done, and I will not change just because prison looms on the horizon. I am a grown up man. I chose that path, I accepted some responsibilities, I have some obligations to people who believed me. I knew what to expect.