Russian authorities have launched a criminal investigation into two top allies of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, for raising money for his political network – which has been labelled extremist.
Allies Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov, who have already been exiled from the country, are at the centre of the investigation which was opened after a court ruled Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation as extremist in June, but came into force last week.
The crime, of raising money for or donating to Navalny’s groups, could land allies of Putin’s opposition up to eight years in prison.
Navalny, who is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for parole violations, sparked demonstrations in some 180 Russian towns and cities following news of his arrest.
Supporters of Navalny have since encouraged backers to donate through cryptocurrencies, in an attempt to bypass Russian authorities who cannot trace assets like Bitcoin.
It comes as Navalny’s lawyer Lyubov Sobol fled Russia just days before she was due to be placed under travel restrictions, according to pro-government reports.
Sobol was one of the last few of Navalny’s high-profile allies that had not yet left Russia to avoid prosecution.
The lawyer was sentenced to one year and a half of conditions similar to that of parole, for attending a Kremlin opposition rally in Moscow in January – which officials have said breached Covid-19 restrictions.
After receiving the suspended sentence, which put restrictions on her freedom of travel, Sobol told the Echo of Moscow: “Essentially, you can interpret this as the possibility of leaving the country.”