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Konstantin Dobrynin on searches of Anti-Corruption Fund offices

The Investigative Committee has conducted mass searches under the case of money laundering through Aleksey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund. Experts believe that will complicate, but not stop the organization's activity.

Who and what was searched by the Investigative Committee

On Tuesday, October 15, the Investigative Committee reported having conducted searches in 30 regions under the criminal case of laundering of funds used, according to the Investigation, to finance Aleksey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF).

Searches were conducted at the fund’s headquarters, as well as at the places of residence of employees of its regional branches; documents and other objects of relevance for the investigation were confiscated and a number of employees were summoned for questioning.

Besides, following a motion of the Investigative Committee, the court froze the Anti-Corruption Fund’s bank accounts, which had been topped with funds from “foreign sources”. That is exactly, the investigation points out, what has been seen as the grounds to include the organization in the foreign agents list.

As ACF employees reported on that day, the investigative actions began in the morning at houses of former and active employees and volunteers of regional headquarters in over ten Russian cities, particularly, in Voronezh, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Samara, Chelyabinsk, Ufa and Yaroslavl. Regional MIA directorates refused to comment on this information.

Later ACF Director Ivan Zhdanov reported searches at the ACF office in Moscow. According to Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh one of the fund's employees was detained and surveillance cameras installed by ACF were disabled. ACF’s lawyer Lyubov Sobol also reported a search at Navalny Live studio.

Additionally, early in the morning the house of chief editor of Smolensk Keytown.me portal Aleksey Volkov was searched under the money laundering case. As Volkov told 7x7, he was shown a regulation stating that the investigative actions are related to the case of money laundering at ACF. When the journalist asked the investigators what he personally had to do with ACF, they replied: “We are about to find out.” Volkov’s two laptops, a phone, a portable hard drive and all bank cards were confiscated and he was questioned for an hour. The journalist’s wife was threatened that her kids would be taken away with their father if she doesn’t sign a pledge of secrecy, Volkov notes. He added that he had nothing to do with Navalny headquarters, even though the website Keytown.me covered its activity.

What the ACF does to continue operations

On September 12 searches at houses of coordinators and volunteers of Navalny headquarters were conducted in over 40 regions. As pointed out by the ACF director, the grounds for them were a case under art. 174 (Legitimization of criminal proceeds). In total, according to Navalny’s supporter Leonid Volkov, the capital's Basmanny court authorized 94 searches.

The case on money laundering against the ACF was initiated in early August. According to the investigation, in 2016—2018 people associated with the fund as well as employees of the organization legitimized about 1 bn rubles of criminal proceeds through ACF’s accounts. The Investigative Committee claims that the money was received by the fund in Russian and foreign currency from unknown persons. The investigation is lead by senior investigator of the Investigative Committee Aleksandr Lavrov, who was involved in the investigation of cases of former governor of Kirovsky region Nikita Belykh and Kirill Serebrennikov of Sedmaya Studiya.

In early October the Ministry of Justice declared ACF a foreign agent. The Ministry claims that the fund received one tranche from the US and two from Spain of total amount exceeding 140 thousand rubles. Zhdanov claimed that the organization is funded exclusively by Russian citizens and demanded the Ministry to provide evidence of ACF receiving a single cent of foreign money. The payments of 140 thousand rubles mentioned by the Ministry, according to him, were credited to a frozen account of the organization.

Despite the fact that ACF’s accounts are frozen technically all accounts remain functioning, Yarmysh says. Each account, those of the ACF, the headquarters, most employees, many of their family members are arrested with 75.5 mn rubles as injunctive relief under the legitimization case, ACF head Leonid Volkov had previously explained. Technically if we credit 75.5 mn rubles to one of these accounts, the amount in excess of that will be available for use, which is why payments to all ACF accounts are made, but frozen until the balance is positive.

The fund arranged for all funds to be credited to accounts other that the blocked ones, Volkov says. On ACF and Navalny websites the main tool for donations is a bank card transfer via a form similar to that of an on-line store. According to the ACF Head each week the fund opens a new account and transfers the collected money there. Transfers made via PayPal and in bitcoins are not subject to restrictions, he added.

What the authorities are after

Searches and freezing of accounts complicate ACF’s operation, which is their only objective, but investigations and other activities of the fund will in no way be affected by that, Kira Yarmysh told RBC. She stressed that the fund continues with its routine operations.

The fund always tries to find lawyers as soon as possible to help its employees and volunteers in every region, Yarmysh pointed out. “The problem is that they are hardly ever admitted to searches and finding 100—120 lawyers, for instance, to try and cover every search promptly is a difficult task,” she explained.

Searches at the ACF are a logical step taken by law enforcement agencies after the ACF was declared a foreign agent, political scientist Aleksandr Pozhalov says. A new round in the case is an attempt to prevent the ACF from creating regional infrastructure to participate in elections campaigns and organize social protests in 2020, as well as to apply the Moscow experience of smart voting to other regions, he believes. According to Mr. Pozhalov, if the authorities didn’t believe smart voting to be effective, they wouldn't exert such pressure on ACF.

The scale of the investigative actions is notable, as well as their explicit ostentation, lawyer and former senator Konstantin Dobrynin told RBC. But, according to him, the effect might be the opposite: “A part of employees will certainly be intimidated, a part of the organization will try to go underground, which is impossible in the information era, and a part will leave the country. But Aleksey Navalny, as usual, will reap nice information harvest and thank them.” “When it comes to talking to the civil society, even a restless one, one that asks awkward questions and takes to the streets, it’s better to avoid criminal cases and go for real, rather than fictitious involvement of its representatives into public or community institutions,” Dobrynin adds.

After this summer’s protest campaign related to Moscow City Duma elections, which unexpectedly brought together the unsystematic and the more systematic parts of the opposition (Dmitry Gudkov’s supporters, Yabloko advocates and a part of Moscow communists), the authorities have to use the tactics called “divide the opposition leaders and the plain unhappy,” Pozhalov points out. “On the one hand, under cases which trigger a massive public response and campaigns in defence of regular accused uninvolved in politics, fair individual trials are demonstrated, like, for instance, in the case of mass riots and release of Ivan Goluniv. On the other hand, by prosecuting ACF the authorities show firm determination in the matter of fighting political opposition leaders and the protest infrastructure created by them,” the expert explains his point of view.

By: Natalia Anisimova, Yelizaveta Antonova