Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny could face 3.5 years in jail on return to Russia: lawyer
By Anton Zverev
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is on a national wanted list for allegedly violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence and risks being jailed for three and a half years when he returns to Russia this weekend, one of his lawyers said on Thursday.
Navalny announced on Wednesday that he plans to fly back to Russia on Sunday for the first time since he was poisoned in August with a Novichok nerve agent, despite the risk of being jailed on his return from Germany.
The Kremlin denies involvement in his poisoning, said it has seen no evidence that he was poisoned, and has said he is free to return to Russia at any time.
Navalny on Wednesday shrugged off the growing list of legal threats, calling criminal cases against him — of which there are at least two pending — fabricated to thwart his political ambitions.
Vadim Kobzev, one of Navalny’s lawyers, told Reuters on Thursday that Navalny had now been put on a national wanted list because Russia’s prison service accuses him of not reporting to them at the end of last year in connection with a suspended sentence for embezzlement which he was serving out.
Navalny said the original case against him was trumped up and that he was in Germany at the time being treated as an outpatient for his poisoning so could not report in. The prison service says he was discharged from a Berlin hospital in September and therefore should have returned to Moscow and reported to them.
“In theory they can detain him as soon as he arrives (in Russia) but initially only for 48 hours,” said Kobzev, who said he expected a court to hear details of the case on Jan. 29 at which point it could order his suspended sentence to be converted into real jail time.
“The court can change his whole suspended sentence into a real one and give him three and a half years in jail,” said Kobzev.
Leonid Volkov, an ally of Navalny, has said that Navalny will become the world’s most high profile political prisoner if he is jailed, likening him to Nelson Mandela, and has said he would become a symbol of resistance to the Kremlin.
The Kremlin, which refers to Navalny only as “the Berlin patient,” says it is up to the relevant law enforcement agencies to decide how he is treated.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
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