Feb 3, 2021
Navalny/Yves Rocher affair: a court case tinged with politics
Feb 3, 2021
On Tuesday, Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was jailed for three and a half years in Moscow, for violating the terms of a suspended sentence relating to a court case he was involved in with French cosmetics group Yves Rocher in 2014. A ghost from the past now haunting the French group.
Guilty as charged
In December 2014, Navalny had been condemned to a suspended prison sentence of three and a half years for embezzling RUB26 million, a fraud committed against the Russian subsidiary of Yves Rocher. Navalny's brother Oleg was convicted and jailed for the same term, charged with money laundering and fraud.
The brothers’ transportation company Glavpodpiska had been in the Russian authorities cross-hairs since the end of 2012.
Yves Rocher-Vostok had filed a complaint against persons unknown, and had eventually conceded, in November 2014, it had suffered “no damage.” This however didn’t stop the Navalny brothers being convicted.
Sentence suspension revoked
The conditions of Alexei Navalny’s suspended sentence required him to report regularly, until December 30 2020, to Russian police authorities. The latter have accused him of failing to comply with these terms, notably as he was convalescing in Germany after the poisoning attempt on him in August 2020.
When Navalny returned to Russia in mid-January, he was detained for parole violation. And on February 2, the suspension of his sentence was revoked by the court. Navalny now has to spend approximately two and a half years in jail, having already served a year under house arrest.
“Played into Putin’s hands”
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights stated that the Navalny brothers had been deprived of their right to a fair trial, denouncing the Russian court’s decisions as “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”
In 2018, the brothers filed a complaint and a criminal indemnification claim for “slanderous accusations” against Yves Rocher in Vannes, Brittany. The case was closed at the end of 2019, but the brothers’ legal representatives appealed the decision.
“It's very important for us that French justice recognises the affair is a complete political fabrication and that, by acting this way, Yves Rocher has played into Putin’s hands,” Alexei Navalny said in the past.
Yves Rocher’s management defended its actions, saying it had suspected a scam at the time, and resorted to “normal procedures,” even if suspicions later turned out to be unfounded.
In January, the group said that the case was “closed” and “reopening it is impossible,” adding that Yves Rocher is “an entirely apolitical company” and has no wish to “comment on the situation in Russia.”
Alexei Navalny’s French lawyers, William Bourdon and Amélie Lefebvre, recently accused Yves Rocher of being “aware that its accusations were false,” and of having pursued the case in order to benefit from “commercial facilitations” on the Russian market, which the group first entered in 1991.
By Andrea PALASCIANO in Moscow, February 2 2021 (AFP
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