Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny says facing new criminal probes

·3-min read

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said Tuesday that Russian authorities had launched three new criminal probes against him in a move his allies fear could keep him behind bars for many more years.

President Vladimir Putin's leading opponent at home is serving two-and-a-half years in a penal colony outside Moscow on old fraud charges he says are politically motivated.

"My influential criminal syndicate is growing," Navalny quipped in a new post on Instagram.

"I am a genius and a puppet master of the criminal underworld," the 44-year-old said.

Citing investigators, he said the three new probes were all of "high priority" and had more than 20 investigators working on them.

The launch of new probes against him could lead to more prison time for Navalny, his allies said.

"Putin has decided to keep Navalny in prison for life," aide Maria Pevchikh tweeted. "It's more convenient for him that way."

Citing a senior representative of Russia's Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, Navalny said he was accused of insulting judge Vera Akimova.

Akimova presided over the defamation case that saw the opposition politician convicted of insulting a World War II veteran in February.

During the hearings, Navalny mocked Akimova and she threatened to remove Navalny from the courtroom.

Navalny said the second case related to allegations he had stolen donations to his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

- Intensifying crackdown -

The Investigative Committee said in late December it had gathered evidence sufficient to open a fraud case against Navalny, accusing him of personally spending more than 356 million rubles ($4.8 million) in donations.

Navalny said he was also accused of creating a non-commercial organisation, and encouraging Russians not to perform "their civic duties", charges he said were related to his publication of an investigation into Putin's alleged wealth.

In January, Navalny released a probe into a Black Sea palace that Russian tycoons allegedly built for Putin. The video has racked up more than 116 million views on YouTube. Putin denies the palace is his.

Navalny was arrested in January upon returning from Germany after recovering from a nerve agent poisoning attack he says was orchestrated by the Kremlin, which denies the allegation.

Navalny announced the new charges against him as pressure was building on the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Next month a court will hear whether to add Navalny's network of regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation to a list of "terrorist and extremist" organisations.

Navalny's network has disbanded to shield its members and supporters from possible prosecution. Most of his top allies have since been placed under house arrest or left the country.

In another move targeting his supporters, Russia's lower house of parliament this month approved legislation in a first reading that would ban members of "extremist" organisations from becoming lawmakers.

On Tuesday, lawmakers approved the bill in a key second reading.

Ahead of the key court hearing next month, Russia's financial monitoring service Rosfinmonitoring added Navalny's political network to its database of terrorist and extremist organisations.

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