Navalny officially loses opportunity to run for president

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On Feb. 8, Kirov's Leninsky District Court handed Navalny a suspended five-year prison sentence after finding him guilty of embezzlement.

The court threw out Navalny's appeal of the embezzlement charges that were lodged against him over a timber deal he was involved with in 2009, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. But on November 16, the presidium of Russia's Supreme Court overturned the sentence against Navalny and transferred it to Kirov's Leninsky District Court for a retrial after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which said that Navalny's right to have a fair trial was violated.

The verdict reinforces a decision reached in February, which found Navalny guilty of embezzlement and Ofitserova of abetting the crime. Navalny's lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, said on May 3 that he will challenge the latest court decision at the ECHR.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a hearing after being detained at the protest against corruption and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, at the Tverskoi court in Moscow, Russia March 27, 2017.

"I ask to cancel the verdict and acquit my client Navalny", the lawyer stated.

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Navalny, who hopes to run for the presidency next year, organised the biggest anti-government protests in years in March and has become the most prominent opposition challenger to President Vladimir Putin, who is widely expected to run for what would be a fourth presidential term in March 2018.

Leonid Volkov, Mr Navalny's campaign manager, said Wednesday's ruling would not stop the presidential bid.

Analysts say Putin, who is widely seen as the arbiter in such matters even if they are formally decided by courts or government offices, may not have decided whether it would be better to let him run or bar him from the ballot.

"No one said it would be easy". The politician, who in 2016 announced that he would be running in 2018, also said after the second verdict on the Kirovles case that his campaign would continue.

Mr Navalny has said the attack was linked to the Kremlin, which has denied any involvement.