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The West can do better than condemn Navalny’s jail sentence

The week in corruption, 5 February 2021

Russian authorities detained more than 9,000 people during protests on 23 and 30 January. Many reported to have been treated with violence and brutality. Photo by Vadim Belovodchenko / Shutterstock (Novosibirsk, Russia, 23 January 2021)

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On Tuesday, a Moscow court sentenced Russian politician and activist Alexey Navalny to almost three years in jail. The court ruled that Navalny failed to immediately return to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from poisoning since last summer, thus violating the terms of his probation for a 2014 conviction.

Transparency International said this move seeks to intimidate Navalny and other opponents. The decision also ignores an earlier judgement from the European Court of Human Rights, which said that Navalny’s sentence in the 2014 fraud case was unlawful.

Transparency International stands in solidarity with Alexey Navalny as a political activist who exposes corruption at the highest levels in Russia. It is unacceptable to use force and judicial or administrative pressure against political opponents, journalists and civil activists who participate in anti-corruption investigations.

Our statement

We also called for the immediate release of Navalny and other political prisoners in Russia. We were, by far, not the only ones: many world leaders condemned Navalny’s sentence as politically motivated. The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden were quick to call for his release.

But can’t the West do better than that?

The main reason why Navalny and other activists are persecuted is because they expose and oppose high-level corruption in Russia, as we wrote last month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t say his fiercest critic Alexey Navalny’s name in public but the two men have been making global headlines – together.

Putin vs Navalny, what's the score?

And as we’ve maintained over and over again, corruption does not recognise national borders. The extent to which illicit wealth from Russia ends up being laundered or stashed in ‘cleaner’ countries shows that the West is partly responsible for enabling the Russian political elite.

Take the UK, for example. The UK Parliament’s report on Russia last July demonstrated the country’s role as a money and reputation laundering hub for wealthy individuals linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Transparency International Russia’s recent investigation also shows that, thanks to complicit lawyers in the US, corrupt Russians can circumvent controls in place for foreigner investors wishing to obtain US residency and citizenship.

Investment migration programmes – also known as ‘golden visas’ – are very popular among Russian oligarchs, especially those on offer in the EU.

The only thing growing [in Russia] is the number of billionaires. Everything else is declining. [...] We demand proper justice, decent treatment, participation in elections and participation in the distribution of the national wealth.
Alexey Navalny Excerpts from the statement delivered during Tuesday's trial, as transcribed and translated by the Moscow bureau of The New York Times

This week, an investigation from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project exposed the golden visa industry’s biggest player, London-based Henley & Partners’ role in helping Jho Low – the alleged mastermind behind Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal – obtain his Cypriot passport. Henley & Partners have previously denied working with Low, but the documents seen by investigative journalists show the firm pocketed fat commissions for brokering his real estate deal and referring his citizenship application to another company.

This goes on to show that kleptocracy is a profitable, global business. Without the services of eager private sector intermediaries in the advanced economies, corrupt officials in Russia and elsewhere could not concentrate wealth and power that allows them to act with impunity.

If leaders in the West stand in solidarity with Navalny, Russian anti-corruption activists, civil society and people, at large, they should condemn banks, firms and other professional enablers in their own countries that have been at the service of the corrupt with the same passion – and hold them accountable.

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