Oleg Navalny Released From Russian Prison After 3 1/2 Years

Oleg Navalny, the younger brother of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has been released from prison after spending 3 1/2 years behind bars in the so-called Yves Rocher case.

Aleksei Navalny met his brother after he was released from a penal colony in the western region of Oryol on June 29.

After being greeted by his wife, Viktoria, and his brother, Oleg said he was a bit tired and expressed his gratitude to all who supported him while he was in prison.

"Friends, thank you for coming here today, for your time, and thanks to all who supported, who wrote [about me], who expressed concern and showed me compassion," Oleg said.

The two brothers were convicted in 2014 of stealing about $500,000 from two Russian firms, one of which was affiliated with French cosmetics company Yves Rocher, between 2008 and 2012, and of laundering part of the amount.

Both were sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, but Aleksei's sentence was suspended. The brothers denied the charges, saying the case was politically motivated -- in part as an effort to turn Oleg into a "hostage" who could be used to blackmail his brother into refraining from his political and anticorruption activism.

In October, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the brothers were convicted unfairly. But the Russian Supreme Court upheld the verdict against the two in April.

Oleg Navalny's several requests for early release were rejected and he was regularly placed in solitary confinement for what the penitentiary administration called "violation of the penal colony's regulations."

Navalny, 41, a vocal foe of President Vladimir Putin who has organized large street protests on several occasions and published a series of reports alleging corruption in Russia's ruling elite, was barred from the March presidential race due to the conviction in a second case, known as the Kirovles case.

In the Kirovles case, Navalny was found guilty of stealing money from a state timber company in 2013.

The ECHR ruled in 2016 that the trial of Navalny and co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov in the Kirovles case was unfair, saying that they were convicted of actions "indistinguishable from regular commercial activity."

Following that ruling, the Russian Supreme Court threw out the 2013 convictions and ordered a retrial, which ended in February 2017 with the same verdicts and the same suspended sentences -- five years in prison for Navalny and four for Ofitserov.

Navalny's sentence was expected to expire in July, but on June 25 a court in Moscow extended it by one-year during which Navalny was ordered to visit a parole officer every Monday. Navalny condemned the ruling, calling it politically motivated and vowed not to follow the court's orders.

With reporting by Meduza and Dozhd