Russia’s Kremlin is considering legal action against the only lawmaker who opposed the annexation of Crimea last year. Prosecutors in Moscow have asked Kremlin to lift the immunity from the prosecution of Ilya Ponomaryov, parliamentary officials said Thursday. Ponomaryov is also a suspect of embezzlement.
Serving lawmakers are immune from prosecution in Russia
Russian State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin said that the parliament had received a request from prosecutors to strip the immunity of Ponomarev, paving way for the legal action. Serving lawmakers in Russia are immune from prosecution. Lifting the immunity requires a vote in parliament. The State Duma is set to consider the motion on April 6.
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Ilya Ponomaryov is currently living in exile in the United States. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after deploying troops and conducting a controversial referendum. The move sparked tension between Moscow and the West. Besides opposing the annexation of Crimea, Ponomaryov has been an organizer of mass rallies against Vladimir Putin.
Ponomaryov a pariah in his own party
Ponomaryov faces prosecution as “an accomplice in embezzlement at Skolkovo Foundation.” Skolkovo Foundation is a government innovation project aimed at creating a Russian Silicon Valley near Moscow. Despite the threats and political crisis, Ponomaryov has vowed to return to Russia in May this year. His assets and accounts have been frozen over the Skolkovo Foundation case, and he was barred from entering Russia.
Ponomaryov’s party, A Just Russia, has also alienated him. Lawmakers of his party said they would support lifting his immunity. Meanwhile, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament has proposed to create a Russian Silicon Valley in the Crimean peninsula. Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko said it was “necessary” to work on the creation of a Crimean Silicon Valley to rival the U.S. tech hotbed.
Ponomaryov is one of the few opposition leaders at the State Duma.