Russia Freezes Assets of Poisoned Opposition Leader Navalny While He Is Recovering in Germany
Russian authorities have frozen and arrested funds and property belonging to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is still recovering in Germany from an alleged poisoning with a substance similar to the Novichok nerve agent.
44-year-old Navalny, a long-time anti-corruption activist and vlogger, is the leader of the so called “non-systemic”, or non-parliamentary, opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny has been arrested and faced trials multiple times which he and his aides allege are politically motivated. In his own words, the best guarantee for his life was that he was “more trouble for Putin dead than alive.”
During a visit in a Russian region in Siberia in August, he fell ill on a plane flight back to Moscow, leading to an emergency landing and his hospitalization and treatment in the city of Omsk.
Several days later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself proposed that Navalny be transferred for treatment to Germany, while also urging Russia to investigate the incident in “full transparency”.
Navalny spent nearly three weeks in an induced coma, and was discharged only a month after the incident, on September 22. In early September, the German government confirmed that he was poisoned with a substance similar to Soviet-era chemical weapon Novichok.
The Novichok nerve agent was used in an alleged attack by the Russian military intelligence service on the Skripal family in the UK back in 2019, and also allegedly against Bulgarian arms producer Emiliyan Gebrev in Sofia back in 2015.
Navalny’s allies are categorical that the attempt on his life came from the Russian state, whereas Russia’s government has vehemently denied all allegations of the sort.
Russia Freezes Assets of Poisoned Opposition Leader Navalny
Russian authorities imposed an “arrest order” on Alexei Navalny’s apartment in Moscow and froze all of his bank accounts, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmush announced on Thursday, as cited by DW.
She emphasized that the move, which results from a 2019 court order, occurred while the Russian opposition leader was still in a coma in Berlin, and only several days after he was poisoned with a Novichok-type substance.
The freeze on Navalny’s assets is connected with his legal battle between Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption (FBK), a NGO which existed in 2011-2020, and the “Moscow Schoolchild” company, a catering service firm allegedly connected with Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin himself is known as a member of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and is known as “Putin’s Chef”.
FBK has been sued after its investigation alleged that the catering firm was responsible for a breakout of dysentery in schools and kindergartens.
The company won a libel suit against Navalny and his associate Lyubov Sobol sentencing them to pay RUB 88 million (app. USD 1.14 million; EUR 1 million) in damages.
Prigozhin aides denied his ownership of “Moscow schoolchild.” However, days after Navalny was poisoned, Russian media reported that Prigozhin made a deal with “Moscow schoolchild” to have the debt pass on to him personally.
Prigozhin then pledged to “ruin” the opposition politician if Navalny managed to recover from the poisoning.
Navalny has made it clear that he planned to return to Russia to continue his political activism. On Thursday, Yarmush said he was going to remain in Germany until his complete recovery, with the rehabilitation process possibly taking “a lot of time.”
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow had asked Germany for access to Navalny but received no response so far.
He also said that Russia sent out inquires to Germany, France and Sweden as well as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Navalny’s poisoning probe, also without a response.
“We are hearing public comments, including the ones coming from Germany’s officials, who say rather absurd things — for example, that everything that happened with Navalny happened on Russian territory, we will not help you in any way, you figure it out, but we need you to confess that you are guilty,” Lavrov said.
Also on Thursday, Navalny reacted on Twitter to allegations that he had taken Novichok himself made by one of the scientists who developed the chemical nerve agent.
“I am a little confused. There was no poisoning. There was a diabetes seizure. They never developed Novichok in Russia (as per the Foreign Ministry from today). There was a poisoning but it was the Germans. There was a poisoning but I poisoned myself. I think they have set up a whole new department in the Kremlin to come up with new versions,” Navalny wrote, posting a link to an interview by Novichok scientist Vladimir Uglev.
In the interview, Uglev says, “I think somebody applied the poison to an object, and gave it to Navalny. Navalny would not take an object from an unknown person. But somehow he took it.”