Mass raids target Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny | World news | The Guardian

Kremlin critics denounce searches as attempts to intimidate them

Alexei Navalny at a protest rally in Moscow last month. Photograph: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russian investigators have raided opposition offices across the country in the latest move to increase pressure on the chief government critic Alexei Navalny and his allies.

The raids, which investigators said were linked to suspicions of financial crimes, followed similar mass searches last month and came less than a week after Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) was declared “a foreign agent”.

Opposition leaders have denounced the moves as attempts to intimidate them after a summer of protests and significant losses suffered by Kremlin allies in a Moscow municipal election in September.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that searches were under way at FBK offices in 30 Russian regions, as well as at residences of the group’s regional employees.

The committee has repeatedly accused Navalny’s foundation of financial crimes, including money laundering and accepting illegal donations, and frozen its accounts.

Navalny, whose group often publishes investigations into top state officials, said on Twitter that the raids had started at 6am.

“The ‘law enforcement system of Russia’ is using all of its efforts to protect corrupt officials and bribe-takers,” he said.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Born in 1976 just outside Moscow, Alexei Navalny is a lawyer-turned-campaigner whose Anti-Corruption Foundation investigates the wealth of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

He started out as a Russian nationalist, but emerged as the main leader of Russia’s democratic opposition during the wave of protests that led up to the 2012 presidential election, and has since been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side.

Navalny is barred from appearing on state television, but has used social media to his advantage. A 2017 documentary accusing the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, of corruption received more than 30m views on YouTube within two months.

He has been repeatedly arrested and jailed. The European court of human rights ruled that Russia violated Navalny’s rights by holding him under house arrest in 2014. Election officials barred him from running for president in 2018 due to an embezzlement conviction that he claims was politically motivated. Navalny told the commission its decision would be a vote ‘not against me, but against 16,000 people who have nominated me; against 200,000 volunteers who have been canvassing for me‘.

There has also been a physical price to pay. In April 2017, he was attacked with green dye that nearly blinded him in one eye, and in July 2019 he was taken from jail to hospital with symptoms that one of his doctors said could indicate poisoning.

FBK employees said the foundation’s offices in Moscow were also being raided.

While barred from mainstream politics, Navalny has worked to expose the wealth of Russia’s elite, broadcasting the findings of investigations to millions on social media.

In August, Russian investigators launched a money-laundering inquiry into FBK, accusing it of taking money that was procured illegally.

Last month, investigators raided dozens of Navalny’s regional offices, as well as the homes of his supporters, following mass opposition protests in Moscow this summer.

Navalny blamed the raids on Kremlin “hysteria” sparked by the ruling party’s losses in local elections last month. He said police had searched more than 200 addresses in 41 cities across Russia.

The charismatic anti-corruption campaigner instructed supporters to vote strategically to block pro-Kremlin candidates in Moscow’s local election.

Allies of the president, Vladimir Putin, suffered major losses in the Russian capital during the September vote.

Navalny organised the protests after popular opposition politicians were barred from standing in the Moscow parliament election.

“Shameless bastards from the Kremlin are seeking revenge for ‘Smart Voting’ and trying to destroy a network of our offices,” Lyubov Sobol, one of the Navalny allies barred from the vote, said on Tuesday on Twitter.

Source: Mass raids target Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny | World news | The Guardian

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