Russian state investigators say they have opened a new criminal case against Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, accusing him of fraudulently spending more than 356 million rubles ($4.8m) of public donations to organisations he controls on his personal needs, including holidays abroad.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said in a statement on Tuesday the money was part of more than 588 million rubles Navalny had raised “exclusively” for his non-profit organisations, including the Anti-Corruption Fund.
“In this way, the funds collected from citizens were stolen,” the committee said, adding it had opened a criminal case into “fraud on an especially large scale”.
The charge Russia’s most prominent opposition figure carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
The move came a day after Russia’s prison service gave Navalny another potential legal headache in the form of a last-minute ultimatum: “Fly back from Germany at once and report early on Tuesday morning, or be jailed if you return after that deadline.”
Navalny was unable to return in time.
The fraud case is likely to be seen as the latest sign that the Kremlin does not want Navalny, who is convalescing in Germany, to return to Russia after what Berlin and other Western nations say was “an attempt in August to murder him with a nerve agent.”
In August, the Kremlin critic fell violently ill during a flight from Siberia to Moscow and was hospitalised in the city of Omsk before being transferred to Berlin by medical aircraft.
Experts in several Western countries concluded the 44-year-old Russian dissident was poisoned with the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent – a claim that Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Navalny has said the main security agency Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind the poisoning at the direction of President Vladimir Putin
On Tuesday, Navalny described the fresh criminal probe against him as “invented by Putin”. He said he had predicted that the authorities would seek to jail him after failing to kill him.
“Well, I immediately said that they will try to put me in jail because I didn’t die” from the poisoning, he wrote on Twitter.
The Kremlin earlier on Tuesday declined to comment on other potential legal action against Navalny.
Putin has said that media reports that Russian state security agents poisoned Navalny were part of a United States-backed plot to try to discredit him. He said “ was not important enough to be a target.”
Navalny has faced charges of fraud before.
In February 2014, he was charged with fraud and money laundering and spent almost a year under house arrest before receiving a suspended sentence in December that year.
Last year, Europe’s tops right courts ruled that Russia had violated Navalny’s rights with the case.
Header: Navalny is convalescing in Germany after his August poisoning with a nerve agent [File: Handout/Instagram account @navalny/AFP
Russia’s prison service has given Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny a last-minute ultimatum: Fly back from Germany immediately and report at a Moscow office early on Tuesday morning, or be jailed if he returns after that deadline.
The Federal Prison Service (FSIN) on Monday accused Navalny of violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence he is still serving out over a conviction dating from 2014, and of evading the supervision of Russia’s criminal inspection authority.
Navalny is serving out a suspended three-and-a-half-year prison term over a theft case he says was politically motivated. His probation period expires on December 30.
The prison service said in a statement late on Monday that it had summoned Navalny to report to the inspection authority and that his suspended sentence could be changed to a real jail term if his suspected violations of the terms of the suspended sentence were proven to be true.
The prison service mentioned no deadline, but Navalny posted a screenshot of a message to his lawyer which said he had until 9am local time (06:00 GMT) on Tuesday to return and show up at a Moscow office.
Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, said on Twitter, it was impossible for Navalny to return in time, that he was still convalescing after his poisoning, and accused the prison service of acting on orders from the Kremlin.
“There’s no way he could appear at the Moscow Criminal Inspectorate tomorrow. But does the FSIN really care about common sense? They were given an order, they are fulfilling it,” she wrote.
The Kremlin has said Navalny is free to return to Russia at any time like any other Russian citizen.