A Russian opposition activist who claimed he has been kidnapped and tortured denied new charges Wednesday of armed robbery — the latest step in a case activists say is meant to stifle dissent against President Vladimir Putin.
Leonid Razvozzhayev was charged with leading an armed robbery in the eastern Siberian city of Angarsk in December 1997, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said. He was allegedly part of a group brandishing hunting rifles and pistols that burst into a businessman's apartment, taped him to a chair, beat him and left with a video camera and 500 fur hats, Markin said.
Razvozzhayev, who faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, is currently in jail facing charges of organizing mass riots aimed at overthrowing the government stemming from a documentary-style film shown on Kremlin-controlled TV last month. His case became a cause celebre for the opposition after he claimed he was kidnapped in Ukraine last month, tortured for two days, and forced to sign a false confession, which he later retracted. Authorities say he turned himself in and deny allegations of torture.
Though Razvozzhayev was identified as a suspect in the armed robbery nearly 15 years ago, investigators reopened the unfinished case after the victim's wife complained that Razvozzhayev had not been brought to justice, Markin added.
But Dmitry Agranovsky, Razvozzhayev's lawyer, told The Associated Press Wednesday that the charges had been dismissed 15 years ago for lack of evidence. According to Russian law, the statute of limitations has either already expired or expires early next month, depending on the charges.
Agranovsky said the new charges were aimed at sending Razvozzhayev to Irkutsk in Siberia, where it would be more difficult to guarantee his safety. As evidence, he cited an anonymous letter Razvozzhayev received Tuesday that contained threats.
The film that appeared on NTV station purported to show hidden camera footage of leftist activists, including protest movement leader Sergei Udaltsov, meeting an official from the former Soviet republic of Georgia last summer allegedly to discuss preparations for nationwide disturbances with money raised by a disgraced Russian banker in exile in London.
Udaltsov, who is also charged in the riot-plotting case, told the Interfax news agency Wednesday the charges against Razvozzhayev were "an attempt to stick everything they could to the man, break him, and scare him, so that he flips on" the other activists in the case. "This is yet another fabrication," he added.