Russian Court Rejects Navalny Team's Motion To Replace Judge

MOSCOW -- A Russian judge has rejected a motion by Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny's lawyer to recuse himself from the retrial of the opposition activist.

The January 23 motion by Navalny's lawyer, Svetlana Davydoda, was based on information Navalny's lawyers say they accidentally got when judges at the Lenin district court in the city of Kirov, where the retrial is being held, spoke outside the courtroom and said the court had received instructions from Moscow to find Navalny and his co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov, guilty.

Judge Aleksei Vtyurin rejected the motion the same day it was filed.

The retrial began in early December after Russia's Supreme Court threw out the Kirov court's 2013 conviction of Navalny and Ofitserov on charges of large-scale theft involving timber sales.

It resumed on January 18 after a break for the New Year and Christmas holidays.

Navalny, 40, was handed a five-year suspended sentence in the initial trial in the case, which he said was politically motivated punishment for his opposition activity.

A key leader of large antigovernment protests in 2011-12, Navalny was convicted of fraud in a separate case in 2014 and given a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence.

Navalny has announced plans to run for president in 2018, but if he is convicted at the retrial he is likely to be barred from seeking political office.