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Russian MP who opposed Crimea annexation arrested in absentia

gavelA Russian court on Friday authorised the arrest in absentia of the only lawmaker who voted against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in what his supporters say is a politically motivated case.

Ilya Ponomaryov, who currently lives in the United States, has been accused of complicity in the embezzlement of $750,000 from the Skolkovo Foundation, a high-tech project the Kremlin had hoped would be its answer to Silicon Valley.

The 39-year-old lawmaker, who was a regular at opposition street protests, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution in April.

Ponomaryov told AFP that he was pleased with the court’s decision “to some extent.”

“There will now be an international search that will allow me to defend my name in international courts which, I hope, work with different standards than the courts of the Russian Federation,” Ponomaryov said by phone from California.

“They will render verdicts based on law and not on political expediency as is unfortunately common practice in my country,” he said, adding that he was now doing consulting work for start-up companies and giving lectures.

Investigators said the lawmaker had misappropriated fees for lectures, which only lasted “three to 18 minutes,” receiving some $30,000 for each of them.

Ponomaryov says he has come under pressure from the authorities and has chosen not to return to Russia from a business trip last August. He has denied any wrongdoing.

He is one of the few remaining lawmakers who are openly critical of President Vladimir Putin.

In 2012, along with two other opposition lawmakers, Ponomaryov staged a filibuster at the State Duma, speaking for 11 hours straight when the legislative body debated increasing fines for the participants of unsanctioned protests.

The spokeswoman for Moscow’s Basmanny district court, Anna Fadeyeva, told AFP that Ponomaryov’s defence could appeal the ruling.

“We intend to vigorously fight this absurd case and expose the total absence of grounds before all relevant multilateral organisations, including Interpol and the European Court of Human Rights,” said lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who represented the interests of ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.



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