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World News

Putin critic Navalny accuses Russia of emptying and freezing his bank accounts

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday accused Russian authorities of emptying and blocking his bank accounts and those of his close family, a move he said was unfair and aimed at strangling him and his supporters financially.

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Navalny, 43, an outspoken opponent of President Vladimir Putin who has tried to build an anti-Kremlin movement by exposing official corruption, said his own accounts had been frozen as had the bank cards of his wife, son, daughter and parents.

Navalny said that accounts belonging to him and his wife had not only been blocked since Monday, but were now overdrawn to the tune of 75 million roubles (884,678.7 pounds).

His 11-year-old son's savings, the result of weekly pocket money handouts, had also disappeared, he said on his website navalny.com/p/6305.

The Kremlin declined to discuss the blocking of Navalny’s accounts, saying bank freezes were not a matter for the president’s office.

Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, said the freezes appeared linked to a criminal case opened by investigators into suspected money laundering by his Anti-Corruption Foundation, allegations he says are fabricated.

The investigation was opened last August after Navalny called on people to attend rallies that grew into Moscow’s biggest sustained protest movement in years before fizzling out.

“I’m not going to lie, this is fairly unpleasant. My parents are elderly people, pensioners. Like everyone they have illnesses, medicine (to buy) and so on. No idea how they’ll pay for their utilities,” he said.

BARRED FROM ELECTION

Navalny was barred from running for president in 2018 because of a past conviction on charges he has called trumped up. Putin won that election by a landslide.

Navalny said on Tuesday he believed authorities were trying to sideline him at a sensitive political time when Putin is pushing for major constitutional changes and may be thinking of calling snap parliamentary elections this autumn.

Putin announced plans for an array of constitutional reforms earlier this year that his critics say may be designed to extend his grip on power after his presidential term ends in 2024 and he is due to step down.

Navalny and allies are set to file a case to the European Court of Human Rights on Friday alleging the money laundering case is part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against them, the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre said.

Russia’s Justice Ministry in October formally labelled Navalny’s anti-corruption group a “foreign agent”, meaning it can be subjected to spot checks and face bureaucratic scrutiny.

Separately, the TASS news agency reported on Tuesday that Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, whom Navalny has targeted in his investigations, was suing Navalny for smearing his reputation, though only for a symbolic sum of one rouble.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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