Russian opposition leader Navalny's case sent for retrial

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Supreme Court on Wednesday scrapped a criminal conviction and sent the case of opposition leader Alexei Navalny for retrial, opening the door for his potential run for office.

Navalny was convicted in 2013 of embezzling timber worth $500,000 at the time from a state-owned company in the provincial city of Kirov in a trial which was largely perceived as a vendetta against the rising political star.

Following unsuccessful appeals in Russia, Navalny, a trained lawyer, turned to the European Court of Human Rights which ruled in February that Russia violated Alexei Navalny's right to a fair trial, and has ordered the government to pay him legal costs and damages.

Despite the fact that Russia passed a law last year claiming the right to disregard the European court's rulings if they conflict with the national constitution, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled to overturn the 2013 verdict and send Navalny's case for review to be heard in Kirov.

Navalny's conviction in 2013 came two months before the Moscow mayoral election, in which he was a candidate. Navalny won more than a quarter of the vote, a notably strong performance amid pro-Kremlin parties' overwhelming grip on Russian politics. But when a higher court upheld his conviction later that year, Navalny was disqualified from further runs for office.

Over the past five years Navalny has faced numerous probes and criminal cases against him.

In 2014, Navalny along with his brother Oleg were convicted in a separate case of defrauding the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher. Navalny was given a suspended sentence while his brother was sentenced to 3½ years in prison, a move that critics said resembled Soviet-era tactics of intimidating dissidents by imprisoning their relatives.

Navalny's second conviction is not classified as a grave crime, which allows him to run for office again.

The 40-year old opposition leader, however, was far from celebrating on Wednesday.

"I have absolutely no desire to start traveling to Kirov again," he told Russian news agencies. "The ruling is aimed to hamper my political activities."

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