Alexei Navalny
Alexei Navalny (Reuters)

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to five years in prison over embezzlement charges that he said were politically motivated.

A court in Russia's northern Kirov region found Navalny, who led protests against President Vladimir Putin, guilty of participating in the embezzlement of 16 million roubles (£300,000) worth of timber from a state-owned company, while working as an adviser for the governor of the region four years ago.

"Navalny[...] committed a grave crime," said judge Sergei Blinov as he delivered the sentence

The blogger, 37, hugged his wife and mother and was then handcuffed by court bailiffs who led him away, according to reports.

The trial was seen as the most important in Russia since the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion after a row with Putin. His oil firm Yukos, worth $40bn, was broken up and sold off, mainly into state hands.

The anti-corruption blogger, who organised the biggest anti-Putin protests since he rose to power in 2000, suggested that the president ordered the trial to prevent him from criticising a political class of "swindlers and thieves".

Navalny's lawyers claimed there was no evidence against him and argued that many witnesses called by the defence were not allowed to appear.

Alexei Navalny arrested in Kirov court after he was sentenced to five years in prison (@rapsinews/twitter)