Alexei Navalny has been found guilty of embezzlement, Russian media report.
A judge was still reading the verdict in the city of Kirov, but news agencies said it was clear in his remarks that the Russian leading opposition leader had been convicted.
Even a suspended sentence would bar the outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin from running for president in 2018.
Alexei Navalny, 40, has denied the accusations, saying the case is politically motivated.
A sentence in the retrial may take hours to be read out. Prosecutors had asked the judge to hand Alexei Navalny a five year suspended sentence.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered a retrial after it said he was not given a fair hearing in the first trial, in 2013.
Alexei Navalny is known for his anti-corruption campaign, which targeted senior officials close to the Kremlin. He says the case is an effort to keep him out of politics.
He has recently stepped up his political activity after announcing plans last year to run for the presidency in 2018. President Putin is allowed by the constitution to run for a second consecutive six-year term, but he has not said yet if he plans to run.
Alexei Navalny’s rise as a force in Russian politics began in 2008 when he started blogging about alleged malpractice and corruption at some of Russia’s big state-controlled corporations.
He described Vladimir Putin’s United Russia as “the party of crooks and thieves”, a phrase that stuck among many in Russia.
Alexei Navalny stood for Moscow mayor in 2013 and got more than a quarter of the vote, a surprise for many.
In the first trial, in 2013, Alexei Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled timber worth 16 million roubles ($500,000) from the Kirovles state timber company while working as an adviser to Kirov’s governor, Nikita Belykh.
Alexei Navalny had described the rerun of the trial as an “exact copy” of the original proceedings, and said he was sure he would be found guilty once again.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been released from prison after serving a 15-day sentence for handing out leaflets to promote a protest rally.
Alexei Navalny left a Moscow detention centre a week after the killing of Boris Nemtsov.
The March 1 rally for which Alexei Navalny was leafleting instead became a mourning march for Boris Nemtsov.
Alexei Navalny says the legal cases against him are politically motivated.
In 2014, Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg were found guilty of stealing 30 million rubles ($462,000) from two companies.
Oleg Navalny was given a 3-and-a-half-year jail sentence, while Alexei Navalny received a suspended sentence that prosecutors say they will appeal against.
Speaking to reporters after his release on March 6, he vowed to continue his work despite the murder of Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead outside the Kremlin walls in what his allies say was a political killing.
“Our activity won’t change at all, we won’t reduce our efforts, we won’t step back,” Alexei Navalny said.
“That terrorist act didn’t achieve its aim, it didn’t frighten anyone, doesn’t frighten me or my associates.”
President Vladimir Putin has said that “shameful” political killings in Russia should be stopped, after the shooting of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov just outside the Kremlin walls.
The president said the most serious attention should be paid to high-profile crimes.
Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, was murdered on February 27 and buried in Moscow on March 3.
The motive is unknown, but Vladimir Putin’s aides have rejected suggestions that he had any involvement.
Boris Nemtsov, who had been planning a march against the conflict in eastern Ukraine, said recently that he feared the president would have him killed because of his opposition to the war.
The 55-year-old was shot four times in the back while walking with his Ukrainian girlfriend, Anna Duritskaya, on Great Moskvoretsky Bridge.
At least 50,000 people turned out on March 1 to rally in tribute to Boris Nemtsov.
Marchers, some chanting “Russia without Putin”, blamed the assassination on a climate of hatred fostered by the Kremlin and its supporters towards opponents of its Ukraine policy.
“It is necessary to finally rid Russia of the shame and tragedies like the one that we lived through and saw quite recently. I mean the murder, the brazen murder of Boris Nemtsov right in the centre of the capital,” Vladimir Putin said in televised comments to the interior ministry.
After the shooting, which the Kremlin described as a “provocation” aimed at discrediting the president, Vladimir Putin said he would do all he could to ensure the killers were brought to justice but little progress appears to have been made in the investigation.
When asked by reporters on March 3 if there were any suspects in the murder, the head of Russia’s FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, said: “There are always suspects.”
Several theories have emerged for who was the behind the murder of Boris Nemtsov, who was putting together a report on Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine:
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said it was either a government or pro-government organization
Rogue elements in the security services or fighters returning from eastern Ukraine may have wanted to silence his anti-war stance
Or it may have been unrelated to Ukraine: Alexei Navalny said it could have been ordered by officials in Yaroslavl, where Boris Nemtsov had been investigating corruption
Russia’s finance ministry became part of the story on March 3 when it was asked about reports that a light-colored car used by the ministry had been seen in the area at the time of the shooting.
The ministry’s press service said the Ford car belonged to an in-house security service, but not the ministry itself, Tass news agency reported.
Lifenews website, which has close links to the security services, quoted the driver, Dmitry Karmaza, as saying he had driven past the scene a few minutes after the shooting, when a patrol car was already there.
Separately, a video purportedly showing a far-right Russian group active in eastern Ukraine claiming it carried out the killing was dismissed by the group’s leader as a fake.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and several EU politicians have been barred from attending the funeral of murdered politician Boris Nemtsov in Moscow.
A Polish politician was denied a visa under existing Russian sanctions while a Latvian MEP was turned back after arriving at a Moscow airport.
Alexei Navalny was denied permission to leave jail, where he is serving a 15-day sentence.
Mourners are filing past Boris Nemtsov’s coffin at Moscow’s Sakharov centre.
His funeral will be held in the afternoon at a Moscow cemetery, Troyekurovskoye, where murdered journalist Anna Politkovskayta was buried in 2006.
Boris Nemtsov, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was killed on a bridge near the Kremlin wall on Friday night.
No arrests have been made and no clear motive has been established for the crime.
New CCTV footage of the presumed getaway car has been released by a pro-Kremlin Russian news website, LifeNews. The video shows a vehicle making its way along Moscow streets but there is no close-up on the suspects inside.
Former British PM John Major, who was in Moscow to pay his respects, called for a full, transparent investigation into Boris Nemtsov’s murder, saying his voice would not be silenced.
It was, he added, his “saddest ever visit to Moscow”.
Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete was refused entry into Russia at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow without a proper explanation.
Sandra Kalniete said she had been made to wait two hours at the airport before being denied entry.
Bogdan Borusewicz, the Polish senate speaker who was to have led a delegation from his country, was denied a visa.
Russia said Bogdan Borusewicz was on a list of Polish officials barred from travelling to Russia, drawn up after the EU imposed sanctions on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin will not attend the funeral, the Kremlin said, but will send a representative in his place.
Alexei Navalny is currently in custody for 15 days for handing out leaflets publicizing a demonstration.
He appealed against a court decision not to release him temporarily but the appeal is only going to be heard on Wednesday, the day after the funeral.
Tens of thousands of people marched through central Moscow on March 1 to honor Boris Nemtsov, with the opposition claiming some 50,000 people had attended the event.
Boris Nemtsov, 55, had been due to lead an opposition march that day, but his killing turned the event into a mourning rally.
His allies have accused the Kremlin of involvement but President Vladimir Putin condemned the murder as “vile” and “provocative”, vowing to find the killers.
Boris Nemtsov had been walking home from a restaurant with his Ukrainian girlfriend, Anna Durytska, when he was shot four times.
Anna Durytska, a 23-year-old Ukrainian model, was allowed to return to Ukraine after being questioned by Russian police.
She told Russian media she had not seen the killer, who struck from behind.
Russia’s Federal Protective Service, in charge of presidential security, has said its surveillance cameras did not record the shooting because they were pointed towards the Kremlin.
President Vladimir Putin’s critic Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to 15 days in prison for handing out leaflets to publicize a forthcoming demonstration.
The Russian opposition leader’s imprisonment bars him from taking part in the planned rally on March 1.
Alexei Navalny was given a suspended sentence for defrauding two companies in December. He says the legal cases against him are motivated by his opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
He left the courthouse on February 19 in a police car and wearing handcuffs.
Alexei Navalny urged his followers to attend the rally against President Vladimir Putin’s policies.
The law he breached is one that restricts demonstrations.
“To ease the economic and political crisis we have to pressure the authorities. Let’s go to the anti-crisis rally,” Alexei Navalny said in a video posted on his Twitter account.
Correspondents say that although Alexei Navalny has little chance of posing a serious challenge to Vladimir Putin, he had pledged to lead 100,000 demonstrators in the march, which he says is against Kremlin policies that are leading Russia into a severe economic crisis.
Alexei Navalny led Moscow street protests against President Vladimir Putin between 2011 and 2012.
Last year Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg were accused of stealing 30 million rubles ($462,000) from two companies.
Oleg Navalny was given a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence, while his brother was given a suspended sentence that prosecutors say they will appeal against.
Critics of the Kremlin and the US say that Alexei Navalny’s case is an attempt to stifle political dissent.
Since he was sentenced, Alexei Navalny has taken an increasingly defiant stance, cutting off his house arrest tag in January.
Alexei Navalny and more than 100 other demonstrators have been arrested at a rally in central Moscow, activists say.
The Russian opposition leader had urged protesters to gather in Manezh Square near the Kremlin after his brother, Oleg Navalny, was sentenced to jail.
Police detained Alexei Navalny at the protest and took him home, where he has been under house arrest since February.
Alexei Navalny says the legal cases against him and his brother are motivated by his opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
Hours earlier, a court in Moscow handed Alexei Navalny a suspended prison sentence of three-and-a-half years for defrauding two firms. His brother Oleg was given a three-and-a-half-year custodial sentence for the same offence.
Alexei Navalny accused authorities of trying to punish him by jailing his brother, and called for his supporters to gather in central Moscow in protest.
Around 2,000 people gathered in temperatures below -10C.
Pro-government protesters are staging a counter-demonstration nearby.
At least 171 people were detained by police said OVD Info, a campaign group that monitors political detentions. However there was no official confirmation of the number of arrests.
Upon arriving at the rally, police detained Alexei Navalny and drove him to his house in a police van.
He said he was not allowed out of his flat and that five soldiers stood guard outside.
After his arrest, Alexei Navalny sent a tweet saying that he “had not got as far as the square”.
“I call on everyone not to leave until they are forced to,” he said.
“They cannot arrest everyone.”
Just before his arrest, Alexei Navalny told reporters that his motivation was “not my brother, my family, myself or some specific people” but “this disgusting outrage that has been going for many years”.
Prosecutors had demanded 10 years in prison for Alexei Navalny and eight years for his brother Oleg.
Alexei Navalny has been under house arrest since February as part of a separate five-year suspended sentence for the alleged theft of 16 million rubles from a timber firm in 2009.
Vladimir Putin’s critic Alexei Navalny has avoided jail after getting a suspended sentence in a high-profile fraud case.
Alexei Navalny, 38, was given a suspended prison sentence of three-and-a-half years for defrauding two firms.
His brother, Oleg Navalny, is facing a three-and a-half year custodial sentence.
Alexei Navalny has consistently said the charges were politically motivated. He accused President Vladimir Putin’s government of targeting the relatives of his opponents.
The Navalny brothers were convicted of stealing 30 million rubles ($518,000) from the companies, one of which is an affiliate of French cosmetics giant Yves Rocher.
Prosecutors had demanded 10 years in prison for Alexei Navalny and 8 years for his brother Oleg. Although both were found guilty of embezzlement, only his younger brother will be jailed.
Alexei Navalny denounced the verdict as political “pressure”.
He tweeted: “Of all of the possible types of sentence, this is the meanest.”
Alexei Navalny was shocked by the outcome of the trial for his brother.
“Why are you putting him in prison?” he asked the judge.
“To punish me even harder?”
Alexei Navalny has been one of Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics for several years, leading mass protests against his government in 2011 and 2012.
Tuesday’s verdict is the latest in a series of criminal cases against Alexei Navalny, which he says are fabricated to neutralize his political influence.
In 2013, Alexei Navalny came second in Moscow’s mayoral election, supported by 27% of voters.
He is already under house arrest, serving a 5-year suspended sentence for the alleged theft of 16 million rubles ($276,000) from a timber company in 2009.
The latest verdict was due to have been announced next month, but the court session was abruptly moved forward to December 30 after thousands of his supporters announced plans for a big protest rally on January 15.
After sentencing, Alexei Navalny called on his supporters to protest.
“I call on everyone to take to the streets today,” he said.
Thousands have already said on Facebook that they plan to attend a rally in Moscow’s Manezh Square, near the Kremlin, at 19:00 local time on December 30.
According to new reports, Moscow has blocked access to four anti-Putin websites.
Alexei Navalny’s blog, two news sites and one run by Garry Kasparov were blocked on the orders of Russia’s prosecutor general’s office.
In a statement, it said the blocks were imposed because of the sites’ role in helping stage recent illegal protests.
Critics said the blocks were just the latest in a series of moves by Russia’s government to stifle dissent.
The blocks come as Russia’s central bank reported that hackers had targeted its main website. The site, and that of the Kremlin, were briefly unavailable with authorities saying “technical reasons” were making them hard to reach.
Moscow has blocked access to four anti-Putin websites.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is currently under house arrest for two months – a punishment imposed for violating the terms of a five-year suspended sentence given after he was tried on charges of embezzlement. The terms of his house arrest demand that he does not receive visitors or use the net.
Anna Veduta, a spokeswoman for Alexei Navalny, said in a tweet that the block was a “political decision taken as part of the cleansing of the media space”.
The block also extends to the Russian news sites Ej.ru and grani.ru as well as the kasparov.ru website.
Alexander Ryklin, editor of the Ej.ru website, said the imposition of the block was “monstrous” and a “direct violation of all the principles of freedom of speech”.
“These sites contain incitement to illegal activity and participation in public events held in violation of the established order,” said a statement from Russia’s state communications monitoring agency Roskomnadzor.
The imposition of the blocks became possible on February 1 after a law drawn up in late 2013 to police sites involved in illegal protests took effect.
It is not clear how successful the blocks will be as followers of Alexei Navalny have widely published details of how to reach the sites and avoid official censorship.
Alexei Navalny’s jail sentence for embezzlement has been suspended by a Russian court, allowing him to go free.
However, Alexei Navalny’s conviction is likely to prevent him running in the next presidential election.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to five years in July but released pending the appeal.
He has always denied the charges, which relate to his time as an adviser to the governor of the Kirov region.
His conviction bars him from running for elected office. Navalny has said in the past he would like to stand for president.
But it appears Alexei Navalny’s five-year sentence would rule him out of running for the next presidential election, due to take place in spring 2018.
Alexei Navalny’s jail sentence for embezzlement has been suspended by a Russian court
Alexei Navalny vowed to continue in politics, accusing the authorities of prosecuting him for political reasons, and said he would appeal against the sentence.
While on bail, he stood for mayor of Moscow, coming second and nearly managing to force the Kremlin’s candidate into a run-off.
In July, Alexei Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled timber worth 16 million roubles ($500,000) from the Kirovles state timber company while working as an adviser to Kirov’s governor, Nikita Belykh.
Speaking after the appeal verdict, he said: “It’s clear for me that the authorities are trying by all means to hound me out of politics, coming up with some restrictions and fabricated cases.
“One thing is for sure, they will not succeed in pushing me and my allies out of political life.”
Alexei Navalny could be seen using a mobile phone bearing a sticker which mocked Russia’s current President, Vladimir Putin, as a thief.
The veteran anti-corruption campaigner hugged his wife, Yulia, who has travelled from Moscow to Kirov with him for his court appearances.
Co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov, who was jailed for four years, also had his sentence suspended on Wednesday.
Alexei Navalny took 27% of the mayoral vote in Moscow against the Kremlin-backed incumbent, Sergei Sobyanin, who officially scraped through on the first round with 51% – a result the opposition leader disputes.
Russian activist Alexei Navalny has been freed from jail pending an appeal, a day after being sentenced to five years for embezzlement.
The court ruled that keeping Alexei Navalny in custody would deprive him of his right to stand in the mayoral elections in Moscow in September.
Thousands of Russians had protested against Alexei Navalny’s conviction, saying it was politically motivated.
Alexei Navalny, 37, is a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin.
The elections in Moscow are set for September 8 and – for now at least – Alexei Navalny is being allowed to campaign.
On Thursday, Alexei Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled timber worth 16 million roubles ($500,000) from the Kirovles state timber company while working as an adviser to Kirov’s governor Nikita Belykh.
Alexei Navalny has been freed from jail pending an appeal, a day after being sentenced to five years for embezzlement
At the end of a three-hour verdict reading, Alexei Navalny was sentenced to five years in jail.
But on Friday, the Kirov regional court took just over an hour to hear the bail case and make its decision.
The three judges decided that, as Alexei Navalny had not breached his bail conditions during the trial, he should allowed to await the appeal decision at home in Moscow.
Alexei Navalny and his co-accused Pyotr Ofitserov were immediately released, and Navalny embraced his wife Yulia.
“I am very grateful to all the people who supported us, all the people who went to [protest on Moscow’s] Manezh Square and other squares,” he said.
It was not just the defense pleading Alexei Navalny’s case. In an unexpected move, prosecutors also pushed for him to remain free, with travel restrictions, pending his appeal.
Analysts said this could be an attempt by officials to soothe public anger over the case.
After the verdict on Thursday there were violent scuffles, as thousands of people took to the streets in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities in protests that continued late into the evening. Reports said dozens were detained by police.
Other countries questioned the fairness of the verdict, with the EU saying it posed “serious questions” about the rule of law in Russia, while the US said it was “deeply disappointed”.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the trial had “raised doubts about whether criminal justice was the main motive”.
The Kremlin denies that Vladimir Putin uses courts for political ends, and the judge rejected Alexei Navalny’s claim that the trial was politically motivated.
Alexei Navalny is a leading campaigner against Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and has regularly blogged about corruption allegations.
He came to public attention when he inspired mass protests against the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin in December 2011.
Before he was led away to jail on Thursday, Alexei Navalny urged his supporters to continue his anti-corruption struggle, tweeting: “Don’t sit around doing nothing.”
Russian activist Alexei Navalny has been jailed for five years, for embezzlement from a timber firm.
Protest leader Navalny, 37, had denied the charges, saying the trial was politically motivated.
He had been a leading campaigner against President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, and regularly blogged about corruption allegations.
The EU said the verdict posed “serious questions” about the state of Russian law. The US said it was “deeply disappointed”.
Before he was handcuffed and led away, Alexei Navalny urged his supporters to continue his anti-corruption struggle, tweeting: “Don’t sit around doing nothing.”
He has previously said he would like to stand for president one day.
Alexei Navalny had recently registered his candidacy for the next mayor of Moscow, but his campaign team said that after the verdict he was withdrawing from the race, and called on his supporters to boycott the vote.
Anti-Putin activist and former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov told reporters the trial was “completely fabricated from start to finish, and even the judge could not say what the reason for the crime was”.
Other countries have also voiced their concern at the verdict. The US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, said: “We are deeply disappointed in the conviction of Navalny and the apparent political motivations in this trial.”
Alexei Navalny has been jailed for five years, for embezzlement from a timber firm.
A spokesperson for the EU’s top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, said the embezzlement charges were unsubstantiated, and that Alexei Navalny’s jailing posed “serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in Russia”.
French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot added his concern, but said: “We note that not all judicial remedies have been exhausted and that the sentence could be reviewed on appeal.”
Alexei Navalny’s supporters in Moscow have vowed to stage protests against the verdict later on Thursday.
He arrived at the courtroom in Kirov to hear the verdict after a 12-hour overnight train journey from Moscow.
His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said her husband knew he would get a non-suspended sentence and was mentally prepared to go to prison.
Alexei Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled timber worth 16 million rubles ($500,000) from the Kirovles state timber company while working as an adviser to Kirov’s governor Nikita Belykh.
The prosecution had asked for a six-year jail sentence, but judge Sergei Blinov decided on five years, and said there were no extenuating circumstances that would warrant keeping Alexei Navalny out of prison.
Alexei Navalny’s co-accused, Pyotr Ofitserov, was also found guilty, and given a four-year jail sentence.
“Navalny… committed a grave crime,” said Judge Sergei Blinov as he delivered the sentence.
State television has only shown limited interest in the process despite Alexei Navalny’s prominence, but online the trial has been followed extensively.
Alexei Navalny came to public attention when he inspired mass protests against the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin in December 2011.
Judge Sergei Blinov said he found the testimony of the main prosecution witness, Vyacheslav Opalev, to be “trustworthy and consistent”.
Alexei Navalny insists that Vyacheslav Opalev spoke against him out of revenge, because Navalny had recommended he be fired and his company investigated for corruption.
After the verdict, Alexei Navalny tweeted: “So that’s it. Don’t get bored without me. Most importantly, don’t sit around doing nothing. The toad won’t get off the oil pipe by itself.”
In his LiveJournal blog on Wednesday Alexei Navalny said: “The current authorities are not a big, healthy fish, but rather a bloated fish or Latin American toad, which puffs itself up when it sees danger, with the help of television.”
In an unusual step, the court allowed the whole trial to be broadcast live online.
He is now one of the key figures of the opposition – a thorn in the side of the political establishment, campaigning against the endemic corruption.
Alexei Navalny has also coined a phrase to describe the ruling party United Russia that has stuck in everyone’s minds – “the party of crooks and thieves”.
Police arrested prominent Russian opposition leaders at a rally against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow
Police arrested prominent Russian opposition leaders at a rally against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Blogger and activist Alexei Navalny said on Twitter he had been detained at the rally in Lubyanka Square, which was banned by the authorities.
Fellow opposition leaders Ilya Yashin, Ksenia Sobchak and Left Front head Sergei Udaltsov were also arrested.
Police eventually broke up the rally, one of several nationwide that marked a year of protests against Vladimir Putin.
Alexei Navalny later tweeted that he and the other opposition leaders had been released without charge.
In all, 40 people were arrested, police said.
Reports said police cleared the square by moving protesters towards a nearby metro station.
Alexei Navalny, who has been one of the most vocal anti-Putin campaigners, tweeted: “This is the traditional and not very original tweet from the police detention van.
“It’s raving mad. They snatched me out from the crowd.”
There was a large police presence for the rally, which took place in freezing temperatures outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which is the main successor agency of the Soviet KGB.
Police arrested Ilya Yashin, a leading figure in the Solidarity movement and TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak as they made their way to the rally.
Ilya Yashin confirmed their arrest on Twitter, with a heavy dose of irony.
“Came with Ksenia Sobchak for a stroll on the Lubyanka Square. The police decided we were too cold and put us into a detention van,” he wrote.
Reuters reported that Sergei Udaltsov raised a fist in the air as police grabbed him under the arms and hauled him away into a waiting van.
The protesters had gone to place flowers on a small monument in the square to victims of Soviet repression.
They laid flowers not only to honor victims of the past but as a warning that repression is returning, he says.
Opposition “Freedom March” rallies also took place in other Russian cities on Saturday, Interfax news agency reported.
In St Petersburg, more than 25 people were arrested in a protest that had been allowed by city officials, Interfax said.
Other large rallies were reported in Tomsk and Yekaterinburg.
Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin used his annual state-of-the nation address to suggest that some opposition politicians were being paid by outside, foreign interests.
Legal action against opposition figures has increased markedly since Vladimir Putin was re-elected to a third term in March.
On Friday, Alexei Navalny was charged with fraud and money laundering – the second criminal case against him.
A tough new law has passed on public order offences and tight curbs have been placed on non-governmental organizations.
Last winter saw the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union, with protesters accusing Vladimir Putin’s allies of rigging the parliamentary elections in 2011.
Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has been charged with embezzlement in a case he describes as “strange and absurd”.
Federal investigators in Moscow brought charges over a timber deal in the Kirov region in which he was involved as an unofficial adviser three years ago.
The case was previously investigated and dropped by regional prosecutors.
Alexei Navalny, who was also ordered not to leave the country, suggested the new charges were aimed at discrediting him.
Supporters of the anti-corruption lawyer, who led mass protests in Moscow against Russian leader Vladimir Putin this winter, demonstrated outside the offices of the Investigative Committee (SK) in Moscow, where he was charged on Tuesday.
Under Article 160 of the Russian criminal code on “misappropriation or embezzlement”, Alexei Navalny faces between five and 10 years in prison if convicted.
Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has been charged with embezzlement in a case he describes as "strange and absurd"
Reacting to news of the case, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter: “We should be concerned with attempts in Russia to silence fierce opposition activist Alexei @navalny.”
The case relates to a loss-making contract concluded by a state-owned timber company in Kirov, a region just west of the Ural Mountains, with another company.
The Kirov regional budget for 2009-10 suffered a loss of 1.3 million roubles ($40,000) and Alexei Navalny was investigated as he was acting at the time as an adviser to Kirov’s governor, Nikita Belykh.
The charges were announced on Tuesday by Vladimir Markin, official spokesman for the SK, a federal body set up to act as the equivalent of the FBI in Russia.
Alexei Navalny was charged under articles 160 and 33 (acting as an accomplice to a crime), Vladimir Markin told Russian news agencies.
Investigators, Vladimir Markin said, had originally sought to charge Alexei Navalny with causing “damage to property by means of deceit or abuse of trust” but they proceeded to more serious charges after reviewing the evidence.
Alexei Navalny pointed out that he had gone to the SK expecting to be charged with the lesser offence, only to find the case had been altered against him into something much more serious.
“This charge is strange and absurd,” he said after emerging from the building.
“They have completely changed the essence of the charge.”
This winter saw the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Moscow since the fall of the USSR. Protesters rallied around Alexei Navalny, who accused Vladimir Putin’s allies of rigging elections.
Since Vladimir Putin was re-elected president in March, legal action against opposition figures has increased markedly. A tough new law was passed on public order offences and tight curbs were placed on non-governmental organizations.
In recent weeks, Alexei Navalny, a lawyer by training, turned his fire on the SK’s chief, Alexander Bastrykin.
Alexander Bastrykin denied Alexei Navalny’s allegations that he had undeclared business interests in the Czech Republic.
He admitted once owning a flat there but said he had given it to his first wife. As for commercial activity, he said: “I was never in business. Business in the sense of aiming to make a profit. If they can find a single euro in profit, I’ll resign.”
Alexei Navalny vowed on Tuesday to continue his political activities despite the case against him.
“I will continue doing what I did before – nothing has changed for me,” he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Anti-Putin protesters have begun marching in Russia’s capital Moscow, ahead of a major rally to demand fresh elections and a new president.
The protest, on a national holiday, comes a day after police raided the homes of several prominent activists.
They were all ordered to report for questioning on Tuesday, and so were likely to miss the march.
Last week, President Vladimir Putin signed a new law increasing fines for those who violate protest laws.
Vladimir Putin won a third presidential term in March amid protests over alleged fraud in December’s parliamentary vote.
This is the first big anti-government rally in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin.
There are tens of thousands of protesters, a sea of flags, banners and placards flowing through the centre of Moscow.
Anti-Putin protesters have begun marching in Russia's capital Moscow, ahead of a major rally to demand fresh elections and a new president
The demonstrators have been chanting “Putin is a thief” and “Russia without Putin”.
Vladimir Putin appears to be taking a harder line against the opposition.
Shortly before the rally, independent media websites went down with news agencies reported difficulty reaching that of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief of the Dozhd (Rain) TV channel, said its website had come under attack by hackers.
“We’re trying to get back on track. The attack started at 11:00,” he told the Interfax news agency.
Those targeted by police on Monday included leading opposition activists Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov and his wife Anastasia.
They all arrived for questioning at the headquarters of the Russian investigative committee on Tuesday morning.
It is a rather unsubtle attempt by the authorities to stop them from participating in the protest, our correspondent says.
Police also searched the home of Ksenia Sobchak – a well-known TV presenter and daughter of Vladimir Putin’s late mentor and St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak – who has joined the protest movement.
“People barged in at 8:00 a.m., gave me no chance to get dressed, robbed the apartment, humiliated me,” Anatoly Sobchak said in a Twitter post.
“I never thought we would return to such repression in this country.”
Sergei Udaltsov told reporters that police had “rifled through everything, every wardrobe, in the toilet, in the refrigerator. They searched under the beds”.
Alexei Navalny said police seized computer disks containing photos of his children, along with clothes including a sweatshirt bearing an opposition slogan.
Federal investigators have summoned the opposition leaders to appear for questioning just one hour before the scheduled start of the rally.
Following the raids, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was “deeply concerned by the apparent harassment of Russian political opposition figures on the eve of the planned demonstrations on June 12”.
“Taken together, these measures raise serious questions about the arbitrary use of law enforcement to stifle free speech and free assembly,” she said.
The searches also triggered a wave of protest from Russian bloggers, who compared the actions to those of Stalin’s secret police in the 1930s.
The raids may draw new supporters to the anti-Putin cause.
In a separate development in Warsaw, thousands of Russian fans are due to mark their national holiday with a march through the city ahead of their Euro 2012 match against co-host Poland.
It will be heavily policed in what the authorities say is the “greatest ever” security challenge.