MOSCOW, August 12 (RIA Novosti) – Russian prosecutors said Monday that Moscow mayoral candidate and opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accepted illegal donations from abroad to fund his electoral campaign.
The allegations were immediately denied by Navalny, while Yandex.Money, the online electronic payments system used by the Navalny campaign, said that it had not been contacted by prosecutors over the issue.
“The information about foreign funding for Navalny’s electoral campaign was confirmed during checks,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in an online statement published Monday.
“More than 300 foreign individuals and organizations, and anonymous donors from 46 countries (including the United States, Finland, Britain, Sweden and Canada) from 347 IP addresses have sent money to the electronic fund of Navalny and members of his campaign headquarters,” the statement said.
Navalny ridiculed prosecutors in a subsequent blog post, pointing out that a foreign IP address does not mean that a donation was made by a foreign citizen, and adding that all donations to his campaign were approved by Moscow’s Election Commission or were returned to the donors.
“Officially 1.2 million Russian citizens live abroad, but this figure is really five times bigger. Several million are now on holiday abroad. And there are hundreds of thousands of internet users in Russia using foreign IP addresses,” Navalny wrote.
Yandex.Money said that it had not been contacted by prosecutors, and pointed out that only individuals, not organizations, can make donations through their system.
“We do not understand within what parameters the Prosecutor General’s Office has reached its conclusions about foreigners,” said Yandex.Money spokeperson Asya Melkumova, Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy reported. “IP addresses only tell you about a person’s physical location, not about his citizenship.”
Non-Russian citizens, non-Russian organizations, foreign states and anonymous donors are forbidden from donating to election campaigns under Russian law. Prosecutors said that they would pass their information to the police to decide whether to open a criminal case against Navalny.
"The General Prosecutors Office is simply lying," Navalny wrote in his blog post.
The check on Navalny's campaign financing was initiated after a complaint from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democrat Party, who said last week that he could not ascertain whether Navalny was being financed from “Chukhotka or Washington,” referring to an eastern region of Russia and the US capital, news portal Lenta.ru reported.
Navalny could be excluded from the Moscow elections if it is proved that his campaign received foreign funding, Denis Panshin, a member of Russia's Central Election Commission, said Monday.
Moscow’s mayoral elections are due to take place on September 8, and incumbent Sergei Sobyanin is the clear frontrunner in most polls. Navalny received a five-year prison sentence last month for embezzlement in a trial that supporters said was politically motivated, but was unexpectedly released from custody pending his appeal of the verdict. The only political newcomer in the mayoral elections, Navalny is widely considered to be Sobyanin's most dangerous challenger – not so much in terms of polls, as in terms of his whistle-blowing allegations of corruption.
At this stage in the mayoral race Navalny has raised 31.6 million rubles ($958,000) for his campaign while Sobyanin has raised 100.5 million rubles ($3 million), according to Moscow's Election Commission, Russian media have reported.
Updated with corrected quote from Prosecutor General's statement, changing the words "donations" to "donors" and "have been sent" to "sent money," and with clarification of Navalny's and Sobyanin's respective standing in recent polls.