Vladimir Putin has stated that Alexei Navalny’s sentence in the Kirovles affair is not at all related to his opposition activity and cites several episodes proving – in the president’s opinion – that there was normal “violation of current law” by Navalny. The New Times has fact-checked Putin’s statement.
In an interview with Channel One and Associated Press published on the Russian Federation President’s website on 4 September, Vladimir Putin has said, regarding Alexei Navalny (once again avoiding mentioning his name):
“Wherever this gentlemen turns up, he always leaves his mark, there’s always trouble trailing him. They say he made off with alcohol or a distillery, or that he’s got problems with timber. And then they found some firms he’s got abroad he did not disclose in his income statement. That’s an obvious fact.”
As can be seen from this quotation, Putin is likely poorly informed about the facts he has claimed:
1. “They say he made off with alcohol or a distillery” – most likely this is a reference to the criminal case about the sale of discounted shares in the Urzhum Distillery in Kirov Region. A criminal case was opened in December 2012 after the privatization in the fall of 2010 of 25.5% of the shares of the distillery which were owned by the regional government. The main persons accused were Konstantin Arzamastsev, the former director of the department of government property for Kirov Region, who signed a directive about the privatization; Igor Burkov, the general director of Partner LLC, whose company acquired the shares; and Marianna Popova, who assessed their value. It was in fact Alexei Navalny, who was in 2009 an advisor to Nikita Belykh, the governor of Kirov Region, who discovered the information about the release of additional shares of the distillery before they were sold at a discounted price. Thanks to Navalny, the additional emission of shares was halted, and he also spoke out against privatizing the distillery, considering it to be the main source of tax revenue for the region.
Navalny was interrogated in this case only as a witness. “The case began as pressure on Alexei Navalny, but when it was found that Alexei Navalny wasn’t even in Russia at the time the deal was made, it began to be used against Nikita Belykh, according to Mariya Gaidar, former vice governor of Kirov Region, in an interview with the New Times on 29 January, when Belykh was searched in connection with this case. Now the Investigative Committee is continuing to probe Navalny regarding his involvement in the criminal case, but Navalny does not the status of a suspect in the case and, consequently couldn’t “run off” with a distillery.
2. “Or he had some sort of problems with lumber” – Vladimir Putin means the Kirovles affair, in which Navalny was sentenced by the Lenin District Court of Kirov to 5 years of imprisonment. In the opinion of many experts, this case is politically-motivated, and the trial in it has been conducted with violation of the rights of the defense. Thus, the defense was refused the opportunity to conduct an independent economic analysis and only the analyses related to a closed criminal case against Vyacheslav Opalev were accepted as evidence. The lawyers were refused the right to summon witnesses, and the judge ignored repeated discrepancies in the testimony of witnesses for the prosecution with the transcript of their interrogations. The sentence contained no information or calculations that confirmed that the Vyatsk Lumber Company had purchased lumber from Kirovles for discounted prices. The New Times followed the course of this trial carefully, noting all the controversial aspects of the court sessions.
In the same way Putin also stated, “There are court sentences in this case. And the people who received sentences agreed with it and even declined to challenge it. So this isn’t a case when an opposition member is just grabbed for complaining about the government.” From Putin’s words, the impression is created that even Navalny himself “agreed with the sentence.” But in fact, the reference is to Vyacheslav Opalev, the former general director of Kirovles, who made a plea bargain with the investigation and on 24 December 2012 was handed a conditional sentence of four years. It was on the basis of his testimonies that much of the indictment against Navalny was largely constructed. As for the defense of Navalny and Ofitserov, their attorneys submitted appeals of the sentence of the Lenin District Court by the deadline and continue to demand the complete exoneration of their clients.
Former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin also had doubts about the sentence. “The indictment also subjects the foundations of the market economy in Russia to doubt, including the right to freely conclude trade deals. The case gives you the feeling of traveling in a time machine, as if we live not in 2013 but under the Soviet planned economy.”
3. “And then they found some firms he’s got abroad which he did not disclose in his income statement.” – apparently this is a reference to the MRD Company in Montenegro, the co-founder of which, as the authorities claim, is Navalny. However, as Navalny claims, he did not register this firm, and moreover, the company was not put on the tax roster and has not conducted any activity since the day it was registered. Navalny explained this situation in more detail in an interview with the newspaper Vedomosti:
“Indeed, in 2007, I had an idea, a business project related to purchase of land and construction in Montenegro. This was not some large developer’s project, it was rather a small investment. I did not intend to become a developer there, there was a person who was prepared to invest, and I tried to involve some acquaintances in the project but in the end we didn’t find the land, everything was very expensive.”
Now Navalny’s campaign office has sent a lawyer to Montenegro to investigate the matter. Furthermore, as The New Times reported, Russian law obliges candidates to the post of mayor to declare “foreign financial instruments,” which a firm abroad clearly cannot be considered.
In addition, during the interview, Vladimir Putin mentioned the figures from opinion polls on the ratings of the candidates for mayor of Moscow: “Today, to be sure, Sergei Semyonovich Sobyanin, acting mayor of Moscow is leading in all the polls, he has, I don’t recall exactly, more than 60 percent, I think.”
Meanwhile, under Art. 47 of the Election Code of the city of Moscow, “for five days before voting day…publication (disclosure) of the results of surveys of public opinion polls, forecasts of the results of the elections, are prohibited.” The election for mayor of the capital will take place on 8 September; consequently, the prohibition went into effect at 0.00 o’clock on 3 September, after which the public dissemination of this information is a clear violation of election law.