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MOSCOW, April 25 (Itar-Tass) – Former director of the Kirovles company Vyacheslav Opalev said at a hearing at the Lenin district court of Kirov on Thursday that he had been under pressure to sign contracts between Kirovles and the Vyatka Timber Company /VLK/.
The court is reviewing the criminal case against Opposition blogger Alexei Navalny and his suspected accomplice, former director of the Vyatka Timber Company /VLK/ Port Ofitserov, accused of misusing property of the Kirovles company.
According to Opalev, the commercial department of his company was opposed to the contracts from the very beginning, as it found them quite disadvantageous. The contracts stipulated that Kirovles bore sole responsibility for everything. However, Opalev said VLK director Pyotr Ofitserov had put pressure on him to sign the documents. He also said there was no way for him to amend contract terms.
Opalev acknowledged that the prices at which VLK had purchased products from Kirovles had been understated to a considerable extent.
"Ofitserov said if I didn't sign, those on top would decide everything quickly; that they had already coordinated everything," he said.
"How does you company understand "on top?" the prosecutor asked.
"It means the government. Ofitserov had always been together with Navalny, even at conferences. He had hinted to me about their friendship," Opalev sad.
He told about a conference attended by directors of affiliates /Kirovles comprised 36 forestry branches/ as well as Navalny and Ofitserov. It was proposed to sign all contracts, including with company's affiliates only with the VLK. After some directors objected to the terms of the contracts, they were called "thieves."
"Who called them so?" the prosecutor asked.
"Ofitserov and Navalny," Opalev replied.
He said although Kirovles required financial assistance, its financial position was quite stable in 2009. "We had neither wage nor tax debts; there was a small liability related to the lease of forests," he said.
Answering a question about his personal interest, Opalev said he hoped for support of his company: "Navalny told me that my interests would be taken into account if everything went well."
On Thursday, the Lenin district court of Kirov began to questions witnesses for the prosecution.
Earlier reports said the verdict for Navalny might be announced in June.
The hearings will be held on April 24-26, May 15-16, May 20-22 and May 29-30. Among the witnesses for the prosecution is Kirov region governor Nikita Belykh.
The defendants asked to be allowed to testify at the end of the trial.
On Wednesday, the court questioned Pavel Smarting, a representative of the Kirovles company which is an injured party in the case.
Navalny had pleaded not guilty to the charges. "I do not acknowledge my guilt; I don't understand the charges," he stated.
Smertin said Kirovles would not file claims against Navalny and Ofitserov until the case had been reviewed on the merits.
He told the court he had personally known Navalny since 2009, when he was an aide to Kirov region governor Nikita Belykh. Kirovles was in the red in 2009, and at present, it is bankrupt, Smertin said.
He said he had tried to explain to the Kirovles administration that Navalny had no authority to run the company as he was government advisor on voluntary basis. The contract between Kirovles and the Vyatka Timber Company had been forced, and absolutely disadvantageous to the company.
"We agree with the charges brought against Navalny and Ofitserov; we have no reasons to doubt the investigator's statements, but it is up the court to ascertain the precise sum of damage and culpability of the defendants," Smertin said.
Investigative Committee /SK/ spokesman Vladimir Markin told Tass that Navalny, as an advisor to the Kirov region governor, "arranged the theft of Kirovles company by entering in collusion with Vyatka Timber Company director Pyotr Ofitserov and Kirovles director general Vyacheslav Opalev."
The SK believes that more than 10,000 cubic meters of timber were stolen in the period from May through September 2009, causing a 16-million-rouble damage to the regional budget.
On December 24, 2012, Kirov's Lenin district court gave Opalev a four-year suspended sentence. Opalev had pleaded guilty and signed a plea bargain agreement. "He gave detailed testimony regarding the circumstances of the crime committed in complicity with Navalny," the SK said.