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Russian deputy governor calls charges against Navalny 'nonsense'

Alexei Navalny, Holding Up PapersNIZHNY NOVGOROD, May 11 (RIA Novosti) - Deputy governor of the central Russian Kirov region Maria Gaidar dismissed on Wednesday charges against popular anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny as "complete nonsense."

The Russian Investigative Committee announced on Tuesday that it had reopened a 2009 fraud case against Navalny, a move widely seen as a warning to the whistleblower ahead of the 2012 presidential elections.

Navalny is accused of talking the then-head of the timber firm Kirovles into signing a disadvantageous deal with another logging company by posing as an aide to the Kirov governor.

"From Kirov it looks like complete nonsense," Maria Gaidar, the daughter of former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and a fierce critic of Putin's government, wrote in her LiveJournal blog. "It is unclear why Navalny would want to lead Kirovles into illegal activities and what the nature of those activities was."

Navalny said on his blog that the accusations were false, and that he is being targeted for standing up to Russia's leaders and specifically to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

The Investigative Committee said on Tuesday that Navalny used "tactics and tricks employed by corporate raiders during takeovers."

"To suggest that Navalny used these tactics to take over Kirovles is similar to calling him a lunatic, because only a lunatic would want to take control of a large loss-making enterprise with a huge payroll and a host of expenses that could be covered only with subsidies from the Kirov budget," Gaidar said.

United Russia has picked up the moniker of "the party of crooks and thieves" in a section of the Russian blogosphere, where Navalny is viewed as something of a hero for making a career of using the law to expose Russia's endemic corruption.

Navalny's Wikileaks-style website, Rospil.inf-, is using like-minded members of the Russian public to monitor state tenders, where they say billions of rubles of public money is lost to kickbacks. Rospil says a total of $58.4 million in alleged government fraud has been tracked down so far.

Although he has been campaigning against corruption in Russia for some time, Navalny was catapulted into the public consciousness last year when he published a leaked Audit Chamber report detailing a $4 billion fraud by former executives at Russia's state-owned pipeline company, Transneft, during the construction of the East Siberian Pacific Ocean pipeline.

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