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article imagePolice raid Open Russia opposition group

By Ola CICHOWLAS (AFP)     Oct 5, 2017 in World

Russian police on Thursday raided the Moscow offices of opposition movement and website Open Russia, which is financed by exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Investigators also searched the homes of Open Russia employees in the early morning raids, the group said, seizing phones, computers and cameras.

Open Russia said a total of 17 addresses linked to its employees were raided. Stanislav Belkovsky, an outspoken analyst, said his home was also searched.

"Most were addresses where Open Russia employees are registered. Some of the properties had their front doors forced open, in others police simply asked where the employee is," Open Russia's statement said.

"In some cases, electronic equipment and personal family belongings were confiscated."

Those targeted included Open Russia's editor-in-chief, the parents of the movement's chairman Alexander Solovyov, the website's administrator and the daughter of another employee.

Solovyov said investigators linked the raids to the controversial 2003 tax evasion case against former oil giant Yukos, which led to Khodorkovsky's arrest.

"I was in 8th grade then," Solovyov wrote on Twitter.

Russia's Investigave Committee said the raids were part of an investigation "into the main former shareholders and directors of YUKOS."

It said investigators were looking for proof that Open Russia received financing from abroad, despite being banned from doing so in April this year when it was branded an "undesirable orgnisation" under a controversial 2015 law.

"The Investigative Committee is searching the homes and offices of individual persons who are financed from abroad and via organisations under the control of Mikhail Khodorkovsky," they said in a statement.

Russia's pro-Kremlin channel Ren TV aired footage of one of the apartment raids, which showed an employee being pinned to the floor.

The property belonged to Open Russia activist Nikolai Levshits, who said he had spent six hours with his hands handcuffed behind his back during the raid.

- Analyst under pressure -

Later on Thursday, police raided the home of political analyst Belkovsky also in connection to the the Yukos case.

"Investigators wanted proof that I laundered billions from Mikhail Khodorkovsky's funds and used them to lead my own presidential campaign," Belkovsky told Russia's independent channel Dozhd TV, adding that the raid lasted around three hours.

Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos boss who in 2014 re-launched his Open Russia charity to promote civil society in Russia, was arrested in 2003 for tax evasion and spent 10 years in prison before being pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.

He now lives in exile in Britain.

Open Russia has been targeted by Russian authorities in the past, and the Yukos case continues to be used to pressure Khodorkovsky's associates.

In February, Russian authorities confiscated thousands of posters bearing Putin's face and the slogan "Enough", which Open Russia intended to use in a protest.

In March, authorities raided the home of Open Russia journalist and rights campaigner Zoya Svetova. "This has nothing to do with Yukos. They want to scare me," she said at the time.

Writing on Twitter, Khodorkovsky linked Thursday's raids with Putin's 65th birthday on Saturday when jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny is planning nationwide protests.

"In time for Putin's birthday!" he wrote.

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