MOSCOW (AP) — Investigators raided the office of anti-corruption campaigner and leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny on Friday, after he was taken in for questioning by a dozen policemen who intercepted him outside his Moscow apartment building.
The interrogation and raid appeared aimed at increasing the pressure on Navalny, a vehement foe of President Vladimir Putin. He has refused to stay silent despite a criminal conviction that has kept him under house arrest and sent his brother to prison.
The Kremlin has been reluctant to jail Navalny, so as not to turn him into a martyr, but also has seemed determined to prevent him from playing any role in stirring up discontent. Friday's raid suggested renewed efforts to shut down his corruption-fighting foundation and stop its relentless exposure of official abuses.
A court in late December convicted Navalny of fraud and gave him a 3½-year suspended sentence, but said that until his appeals were exhausted he must remain under house arrest. He has been allowed to leave his home in recent days, but has been followed by law enforcement officers posted outside his door.
Navalny said he was met Friday morning by 12 police officers and taken to the federal Investigative Committee, which had summoned him for questioning about his anti-corruption activities. He said the whole thing was like a movie.
"Three police are with me in the car and three in plainclothes in the car next to us," he said on Twitter. "Too bad I didn't bring my dark glasses."
A couple of hours later, investigators backed by masked policemen with automatic rifles raided his foundation's offices. The director, Roman Rubanov, wrote on Twitter that all of their computers and telephones had been seized.
One of Navalny's employees, Georgy Alburov, who was outside the office, said the search continued into the evening and his colleagues were allowed to step out to smoke but were unable to leave. He said the investigators produced a search warrant referring to the alleged theft of a painting.
The Investigative Committee, however, said the search was in response to a complaint from lawmaker Mikhail Degtyarev, who ran alongside Navalny in the 2013 mayoral election. Degtyarev lost the election badly, while Navalny finished a strong second behind the Kremlin candidate, Sergei Sobyanin.
The lawmaker had found it suspicious that Navalny's foundation spent about 60 percent of its budget on payroll, the agency said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies. This seemingly absurd complaint drew a sarcastic tweet from Navalny, who said "and what, excuse me, should we have spent this on?"
Navalny's lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said he had refused to answer questions from investigators during the interrogation because he believed their aim was to bring criminal charges against him, the Tass news agency reported.
The previous night, police detained 13 people among about 100 who held a protest in central Moscow in support of Navalny and his brother. Scuffles broke out when they were confronted by a much larger group of pro-Kremlin activists.
In St. Petersburg, about 300 people rallied peacefully in support of Navalny.
Navalny played a leading role in anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow in 2011 and 2012 that drew hundreds of thousands. But after Putin's election to a third term, the Kremlin moved steadily to intimidate and marginalize all opposition.
Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report.