MOSCOW (AP) _ A Moscow court sentenced a popular journalist to one year of court-designated labor Friday for calling Defense Minister Pavel Grachev a thief.

Grachev sued Vadim Poegli, an editor at Moscow's most popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, for publishing an article alleging he diverted army funds to buy Mercedes Benz cars for his personal use.

Prosecutors earlier investigated the accusation against Grachev, but dropped the case, saying Yeltsin approved the purchases.

Judge Olga Govorova found Poegli guilty of deliberately insulting Grachev ``in an indecent way'' and sentenced him to one year working at a job specified by the government. Poegli will also be required to give up 30 percent of his salary.

At the court's discretion, Poegli could potentially serve the sentence working at his regular job at the newspaper.

Immediately after sentencing, Govorova ruled that Poegli was eligible for an amnesty granted to non-violent criminals earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II.

``I do not need an amnesty. I am going to appeal in Moscow city court and to the Supreme Court if necessary,'' Poegli said after the trial. Russian law gives him seven days to appeal.

Grachev has long blamed the media for the decline in the Russian army's prestige. He was not in court for Friday's verdict because he was in the United States to discuss peacemaking in Bosnia with U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry.

Grachev had repeatedly refused to attend the trial, saying he didn't want it turned into a circus. He finally appeared Wednesday after the judge threatened to send the police to bring him in, and President Boris Yeltsin ordered him to go.

``You can call a man a thief only after a court of law has declared him a thief,'' Grachev told the court.