Bloomberg News

Russian Court Sentences Opposition Activist’s Husband to 5 Years

March 15, 2012

A Moscow court sentenced a businessman to five years in jail for money laundering and fraud, provoking accusations of persecution by his wife, a prominent opposition activist.

Alexei Kozlov, whose previous conviction for fraud was overturned by the Supreme Court and sent for review, faces almost another two years in prison, taking into account time served, the state-run RIA Novosti and Rossiya 24 channel reported.

His wife Olga Romanova, who has spoken out at protest rallies over election fraud and heads an advocacy group, Russia Behind Bars, that campaigns against wrongful imprisonment, denounced the verdict on her Facebook Inc. page. She has said her husband was targeted because of her activism. Other campaigners warned of a crackdown against opponents of President-elect Vladimir Putin.

Kozlov was found guilty in 2009 after a dispute with his business partner, a former Russian senator. He was freed in September after the Supreme Court struck down his conviction and prosecutors opened a new case against him.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s human rights council “isn’t ruling out” conducting a review of the decision, the commission’s head, Mikhail Fedotov, told reporters near the Volga city of Samara, adding that today’s verdict isn’t politically motivated.

‘Rotten System’

“When this all started five years ago, it was just a corrupt case about a raid to seize assets, and now it’s an attempt by a rotten system to preserve its face and defend itself,” Romanova said in a March 11 interview with Dozhd television channel.

The same Moscow district court that sentenced Kozlov also today jailed an opposition activist, Sergei Udaltsov, to 10 days in prison for taking part in an unsanctioned protest in Moscow on March 10.

Moscow police earlier this week summoned Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny for questioning. The authorities may try to bring charges of extremism against Navalny, his lawyer Vadim Kobzyov told Ekho Moskvy radio.

“We are now witnesses to the fact that the regime is showing that it has no intention of compromise,” Lev Ponomaryov, a human rights activist, told the state news service RIA Novosti.

Mass protests against alleged electoral fraud brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets in Moscow and other cities starting in December, sparking the largest unrest in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s decade in power. While the demonstrations showed signs of cooling, with 10,000 to 25,000 people taking part in a March 10 rally in Moscow, opposition leaders are vowing to keep up protests after Putin’s disputed election to a new Kremlin term on March 4.

One in Six Jailed

A common practice in Russia is raiderstvo, or raiding, in which state officials prosecute businessmen to seize their companies, according to Yana Yakovleva, head of Business Solidarity, a Moscow lobbying group. She estimates that more than 100,000 businesspeople are in Russian jails, and one in six entrepreneurs have faced criminal proceedings.

The editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, wrote an open letter to Medvedev asking him to intervene and warning that Kozlov would be in danger of his life in prison.

“Alexei Kozlov’s case has become one of the main proofs of the complete collapse -- professionally and morally -- of the Russian judicial system,” Muratov said in an editorial. Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, declined to comment.

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net; Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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