Brothers Alexei (left) and Oleg Navalny share a moment in the Moscow courtroom on Tuesday, Dec. 30 where they were found guilty of embezzlement.
Alexei Navalny, the charismatic Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic who exposed high-level corruption, has been found guilty of embezzlement from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher and handed a 3.5 year suspended jail term.
A Moscow court handed down the ruling Monday morning local time. Meanwhile, his brother, Oleg, received 3.5 years of hard time in a Russian prison in a move Navalny and his supporters likened to "hostage taking."
The verdict was originally scheduled to be read on Jan. 15, but it was moved forward to Tuesday “because the verdict is already ready,” a spokesperson for the court said on Monday.
The brothers have denied the charge that they stole 30 million rubles ($526,000) from a French cosmetics giant Yves Rocher. The company has also said no crime had been committed against it by the men. They, as well as their supporters, say the case is punishment for Navalny's political activity.
Prosecutors in Moscow had asked the court earlier to move up the date on Navalny's case and to sentence him to 10 years in prison, an unusually harsh sentence for a financial crime.
With a guilty ruling seemingly a forgone conclusion (more than 99% of criminal cases in Russia end in guilty verdicts), Navalny's wife on Monday began stocking up on food for prison.
Navalny, who was previously found guilty of embezzlement in a separate case and has been under house arrest since February, seemed prepared to go to prison.
Inside the courtroom Tuesday morning, he appeared relaxed, snapping selfies with his wife and joking with media right up to the moment when the court began reading its ruling.
He wouldn't be @navalny if he wasn't on his iPhone. Waiting to enter courtroom for verdict hearing pic.twitter.com/63eLo9uWi5— David M. Herszenhorn (@herszenhorn) December 30, 2014
As the verdict was read inside the Moscow courtroom, Navalny's supporters and reporters gathered outside. His supporters had called for a public rally in Moscow on Jan. 15, the date originally scheduled for the verdict in his case.
Maybe 100-150 ppl outside court, split between journalists and Navalny supporters. A smattering of Navalny opponents too.— Andrew Roth (@ARothNYT) December 30, 2014
On Monday they worked hurriedly to organize a mass protest for Tuesday following the ruling. A Facebook event page saw more than 15,000 people promise to turn out at short notice.
"We have no choice, we need to come out tomorrow and show how numerous we are," the rally's organizer wrote on Facebook on Monday.
The Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot released a new music video ahead of the Navalny verdict urging people to take to the streets in support of the anti-corruption activist and popular blogger.
The verdict hadn't been read before police in riot gear began rounding up protesters.
First protestors being arrested, both anti- and pro pic.twitter.com/0AybidYqvR— Olaf Koens (@obk) December 30, 2014
While the guilty verdict wasn't a surprise, the decision to send his brother Oleg to jail was unexpected. As the judge read the ruling aloud, Navalny lashed out.
“Aren’t you ashamed of what you are doing?” he asked the court and judge Yelena Korobchenko. “Why are you putting him [Oleg] in prison? To punish me even harder?”
Alexei Navalny screams in court: “Why are you imprisoning my brother?” v@mediazzzona— Ilya Mouzykantskii (@ilyamuz) December 30, 2014
Alexey @navalny's farewell to brother Oleg after sentencing "@ilya_shepelin: Алексей прощается с Олегом pic.twitter.com/Vs3MDQfTti"— kriszta satori (@fulelo) December 30, 2014
Tears in @navalny's eyes as brother Oleg is placed in cell in Moscow courtroom— David M. Herszenhorn (@herszenhorn) December 30, 2014
— Andrew Roth (@ARothNYT) December 30, 2014
Classic Kremlin trickery: @navalny was long prepared for prison, but jailing his brother instead spares him martyrdom & reins him in further— max seddon (@maxseddon) December 30, 2014
While Oleg was jailed immediately, awaiting transfer to prison, Navalny's lawyer said he would be released from house arrest as soon as the verdict comes into effect.
Attorney Vadim Kobzev: Alexei Navalny will be released from house arrest once the verdict comes into effect, ie after the appeals.— Nataliya Vasilyeva (@NatVasilyevaAP) December 30, 2014
Navalny's house arrest for a separate conviction last year, which critics also decry as a sham, is set to end in February.
While police bolstered their presence on the streets of Moscow on Tuesday, supporters promised on Facebook to still hold a protest on Manezhnaya Square in front of the Kremlin on Tuesday evening.
Tags: ALEXEI NAVALNY, MOSCOW, RUSSIA, U.S. & WORLD, US & World, WORLD