RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
A key witness called by prosecutors at the trial of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has refused to testify, calling the new case against the outspoken Kremlin critic "absurd."
Fyodor Gorozhanko, a former member of Navalny's team, said at the trial being held inside a penal colony in the Vladimir region, some 200 kilometers east of Moscow, that investigators imposed pressure on him and tried to instruct him what to say during the trial.
Gorozhanko made the statement on February 21 during the resumption of the trial on embezzlement charges that Navalny rejects as politically motivated.
Gorozhanko said that, before the start of the trial, an investigator handed him the text of his testimony to doublecheck if he remembered it by heart.
"Although I am a witness called by the prosecution, I am actually making a statement now as a defense witness. I consider all Navalny's actions legal and corresponding to the current legislation," Gorozhanko said, adding that the case against Navalny is absurd.
Some members of Navalny's team suspected that Gorozhanko had leaked the personal data of Navalny's supporters that were registered on a website of the jailed politician's supporters. The allegation has been rejected by Gorozhanko.
Gorozhanko suggested at the trial that investigators must have picked him as a key witness in the case thinking that he is at odds with his former colleagues and Navalny.
Moscow's Lefortovo district court resumed the trial on February 21 inside the Correctional Colony No. 2 in the town of Pokrov in the Vladimir region, where Navalny has spent the last year on a different charge after returning from abroad where he was recovering from a near-fatal poison attack that he blames on the Kremlin.
The trial that started on February 15 is looking into the new case against Navalny launched in December 2020 on allegations that the 45-year-old lawyer embezzled money from his now-defunct and banned Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). He is also accused of holding a Moscow court in contempt.
Investigators say Navalny is accused of taking $33,770 in donations that were given to his organizations and using them for his own personal benefit, accusations which the outspoken Kremlin critic and his supporters reject, calling them politically motivated.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, while Navalny also faces up to six months in prison for the contempt-of-court charge.
Within weeks of returning from his convalescence in Germany in January 2021, Navalny was handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole. His conviction is widely regarded as the result of a trumped-up, case with political motivations.
The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning, which along with Navalny's arrest sparked widespread condemnation and sanctions from the West.
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