MOSCOW, February 4 (RIA Novosti) - Russian investigators questioned Leonid Gozman, a former member of a once prominent liberal political party, on Monday over an embezzlement case linked to famous opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Gozman later accused law enforcement agencies of being a tool for political vendetta.
“Gozman was questioned by the Investigative Committee on Monday as a witness in an embezzlement case concerning the SPS [Union of Right Forces] party,” Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.
Gozman said in his LiveJournal blog on Sunday that he would refuse to answer questions unrelated to the case. After the questioning, he confirmed to the Dozhd TV channel that he did not answer additional questions, particularly about his relationship with Navalny, but handed investigators a pre-written statement.
In his interview with Dozhd, Gozman also reiterated his belief, first voiced in his LiveJournal blog on Sunday, that the SPS embezzlement case was “political.” “From my viewpoint, sad as it is, law enforcement agencies and the Investigative Committee pose as a means of political vendetta, which is very bad for the country, not only for Navalny,” he told the channel.
“I think they have been ordered to put Navalny in prison, and how they are supposed to do that is their problem,” Gozman said, adding: “I have a feeling they do not believe Navalny stole money from SPS.”
Russian investigators on Friday questioned another former member of SPS - Nikita Belykh, the governor of the Kirov Region who once led the SPS party’s political council, as a witness in connection with the party’s funds allegedly getting embezzled in 2007, and summoned three others, including Gozman, for questioning.
Opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, who headed the SPS political council before Belykh, has also been summoned for questioning. Journalist Maria Gaidar, who had earlier been a member of the SPS political council, told the RBC business news portal on Friday that she was also summoned for questioning over the case. RBC reported that Gaidar and Nemtsov will be questioned on Tuesday.
The Russian Investigative Committee suspects Allekt, a company Navalny headed, of embezzling some 100 million rubles ($3.3 million) that Allekt received from the Union of Right Forces party for advertising services.
Earlier on Friday Belykh was questioned in connection with the 2010 privatization of the Kirov Region’s Urzhumsky distillery, which allegedly involved fraudulent transactions with 25.5 percent of its shares.
Police searched the office of the Kirov governor on Tuesday. The search was supposed to turn up papers linked to the distillery deal, in which, investigators said, the shares were underpriced by up to 90 million rubles ($3 million).
Three people have been taken into custody in connection with the case. One official, the former director of the regional property division Konstantin Arzamastsev, has been put on a "wanted" list.
Earlier official reports indicated that investigators are also considering targeting Navalny, the whistleblower and anti-corruption crusader who served as Belykh’s pro bono adviser in 2009, in connection with the case. In January 2013 investigators brought final charges against Navalny for his alleged role in the embezzlement of 10,000 cubic meters of timber at the KirovLes state-run timber factory while he worked in the Kirov Region in Russia’s Volga Federal District.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the Kremlin has not raised the issue of firing Belykh from the post of the Kirov regional governor in connection with the criminal cases.