Russian investigators open new fraud probe involving Navalny

FILE- In this Dec. 26, 2019, file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media in front of a security officer standing guard at the Foundation for Fighting Corruption office in Moscow, Russia. Russian authorities on Tuesday Dec. 29, 2020, ramped up pressure on top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, leveling new charges of fraud against him. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
FILE- In this Dec. 26, 2019, file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media in front of a security officer standing guard at the Foundation for Fighting Corruption office in Moscow, Russia. Russian authorities on Tuesday Dec. 29, 2020, ramped up pressure on top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, leveling new charges of fraud against him. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MOSCOW – Russian authorities on Tuesday ramped up the pressure on top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny by leveling new fraud accusations against him.

The Investigative Committee, Russia's main investigative agency, said it has opened a new criminal case against Navalny on charges of large-scale fraud related to his alleged mishandling of some $5 million in private donations to his Anti-Corruption Foundation and other organizations.

Navalny, who is convalescing in Germany after an August poisoning with a nerve agent that he blamed on the Kremlin, ridiculed the new accusations as a sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s despair.

“It looks like Putin is in hysterics,” Navalny commented on Twitter.

Navalny fell sick on Aug. 20 during a domestic flight in Russia and two days later was flown still in a coma for treatment to Berlin, where he spent weeks in intensive care. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Navalny has accused Putin of ordering his poisoning. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusation.

“They are trying to put me behind bars for failing to die and continuing to hunt for my killers and for proving that Putin was behind it,” Navalny tweeted. “He's a thief who is ready to kill those who refuse to keep silent about his thievery.”

News of the investigation involving Navalny came a day after the country's prison agency accused him of violating the conditions of his suspended sentence in a previous case and gave him one day to report to its office. In the decade since he started writing about official corruption in Russia and moved into running for political office, Navalny, 44, has been arrested repeatedly and faced various charges.