World Bulletin / News Desk
Russian prosecutors demanded a six-year jail sentence for protest leader Alexei Navalny on theft charges on Friday at a trial that he says is intended to sideline him as a rival to President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutor Sergei Bogdanov did not seek the maximum 10-year sentence, but a six-year term would keep the anti-corruption campaigner in jail until after the next presidential election scheduled in 2018.
Navalny, the most prominent opposition leader to be tried in post-Soviet Russia, denies charges of stealing 16 million roubles ($482,000) from a local timber firm that he was advising in 2009 while working for the liberal regional governor.
Summing up for the prosecution at the end of a two-month trial in the industrial city of Kirov, 550 miles (900 km) northeast of Moscow, Bogdanov told the Leninsky court: "The evidence considered in the trial fully proves that Navalny ... committed a crime.
"I ask the court to find Alexei Navalny guilty ... and sentence him to six years in prison and a fine of 1 million roubles."
Navalny, 37, exchanged nervous smiles with his wife Yulia. When a short break in proceedings was declared, she embraced him, and he then turned to his lawyer and said: "Overall, why be surprised? I'd expected five or six years."
Dressed casually in beige trousers and a light shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he told reporters: "I still hope everything will be fine."
Navalny's trial is widely seen as the most significant in Russia since oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion after falling out with Putin. His $40 billion oil firm, Yukos, was broken up and sold off, mainly into state hands.
Navalny, who organised the biggest anti-Putin protests since the former KGB spy rose to power in 2000, has suggested the president ordered the trial to stop his criticism of what he calls a political class of "swindlers and thieves".
The Kremlin has denied using the courts for political ends and says it does not interfere in criminal cases.