Putin critic gets suspended sentence

Dec 30, 2014, 3:20 AM EST
Russian anti-Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends the verdict announcement on his criminal case at a court in Moscow on December 30, 2014.
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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been been found guilty in a high-profile fraud case. The BBC reports:

Navalny has been given a suspended prison sentence of three-and-a-half years for defrauding two firms. His brother Oleg has been given a three-and-a-half custodial sentence in the same trial.

Navalny, who accuses the government of President Vladimir Putin of widespread corruption, has said the charges are politically motivated. The brothers have been convicted of stealing 30m roubles (£334,600; $518,100) from the firms, one of which is an affiliate of French cosmetics giant Yves Rocher.

The verdict was to have been announced next month, but the court session was abruptly moved forward to Tuesday after his supporters announced plans for a big protest rally on 15 January.

Alexei Navalny has been one of Mr Putin's fiercest critics for several years. He led mass protests against the president in 2011. Tuesday's verdict is the latest in a series of criminal cases against Navalny, which he says are fabricated to neutralise his political influence.

He is already under house arrest, serving a five-year suspended sentence for the alleged theft of 16m roubles (£175,400; $276,300) from a timber firm in 2009. The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow said that Navalny was clearly 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?"