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Russia's Justice Ministry Designates Anti-Corruption Foundation A 'Foreign Agent'

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny poses at the office of his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow, January 16, 2018
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny poses at the office of his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow, January 16, 2018

Russia’s Ministry of Justice has registered Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny’s non-profit Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) as a foreign agent.

The ministry stated that the October 9 decision was based on “an ongoing check” of the Foundation’s “activity," according to the state-run news agency TASS.

Under Russian law, the title “foreign agent” can be applied to any non-governmental organization that accepts foreign funding. (Current Time TV was designated a "foreign agent" in 2017.) Often these are groups that address human-rights concerns or other sensitive matters. They are required to place online or to distribute to media a report about their staff and activities every half year, and a financial report every quarter – requirements some international observers deem an attempt to clamp down on NGOs critical of the government.

Navalny has demanded that the ministry publicly explain its decision and present proof that the Foundation received “even a single kopeck of foreign money.”

He alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is terribly afraid of the FBK” since “we uncover corruption.”

In response, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov countered that “The Kremlin has no position” on the decision, which he called “the prerogative of the Ministry of Justice,” TASS reported.

Navalny created the non-profit FBK in 2011. Its investigations into corruption among Russian bureaucrats and state company CEOs have targeted Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, presidential advisor Igor Shuvalov, and presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, among others.

The Foundation’s employees, particularly attorney Lyubov Sobol, played a leading role in mobilizing Russians to take to the streets of Moscow this summer to protest election officials’ decision to block multiple government critics, including Sobol, from registering as candidates in this September’s local elections.

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In early August, the central government’s Investigative Committee opened a money-laundering case against the Foundation. The investigators allege that the Foundation’s employees laundered “a large sum of money in rubles and foreign currency which were obtained through criminal means.”

The Investigative Committee has estimated the amount in question at a broad “up to 1 billion rubles" (over $15,4 million), but has not named an exact sum. In search warrants presented to targets of the investigation, 75 million rubles (roughly $1.16 million) were reportedly mentioned.

The FBK itself denies the money-laundering accusations and insists that the searches are intended as a crackdown on the Foundation’s investigations of corrupt bureaucrats and members of the security forces.

In an October 9 tweet, Sobol blasted the Justice Ministry’s decision as similarly politically motivated.

“They’re afraid to compete with us in elections, they’re afraid to let us go on television. That’s where the criminal cases, searches, nonsense about ‘foreign agents’ comes from. Our demands are legal and just. And we will win. I believe this.”

The FBK intends to appeal its inclusion in the Justice Ministry’s registry of foreign agents.