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Russia: Khodorkovskii Appeal Rejected, Duma Hopes Dashed

  • Claire Bigg --> A Moscow court rejected oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovskii’s appeal against conviction for fraud and tax evasion on 22 September, but cut one year from his nine-year prison sentence. His lawyers vowed to take the case to a higher court and slammed the ruling, which also crushes Khodorkovskii’s parliamentary election bid. In a further blow to the defense team, Russian authorities have ordered one lawyer to leave the country and called for nine attornies to be stripped of their licenses.

Moscow, 23 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It took just one day for the Moscow City Court’s three-judge panel to throw out Khodorkovsky’s appeal.

Prosecutor Dmitrii Shokhin praised the ruling as fair.

“Of course, we are satisfied with the decision of the court of appeal," Shokhin said. "As for the fact that the sentence of the defendants was reduced, well, it is the court’s right.”

A Rapid Decision

But the speedy ruling prompted an outcry from the defense team, who denounced it as biased and accused the court of deliberately dashing through the appeal.

“I can say that it was an outrage to lawfulness, to the rights of the defendants as well as of the defense," Khodorkovskii lawyer Yurii Shmidt told RFE/RL on 22 September.

Defense lawyers also criticized the decision to reduce the prison sentence of Khodorkovskii and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev from nine to eight years.

They dismissed it as propaganda aimed at giving the court the appearance of impartiality.

Khodorkovskii, the 42-year-old founder of the Yukos oil firm and once Russia’s richest man, was sentenced in May for fraud and tax evasion.

Many observers see his conviction and the dismantling of his oil empire as a Kremlin-initiated campaign to thwart a political opponent and regain control of Russia’s lucrative oil sector.

The rejection of his appeal now makes him a convicted prisoner, a status that effectively crushes his latest political ambition -- a bid to stand in a December parliamentary by-election.

Following the 22 September ruling, Khodorkovskii’s defense team vowed to appeal to the Russian Supreme Court and the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Lawyers Report Harassment

But four of his lawyers have since reported being targeted by Russian authorities.

Just hours after the court ruling, Russian authorities pulled the visa of Robert Amsterdam, a London-based Canadian attorney.

Amsterdam said unidentified plainclothes men paid a nighttime visit to his Moscow hotel room and told him to leave the country or face arrest.

"I was woken at approximately one o'clock in the morning by five officers -- I believe they were FSB (security service) -- demanding my passport," Amsterdam said. "I asked them if I was under arrest, and they said no, but they wanted to take me to the (police or security service) station. I said that I was refusing to go. They then demanded my passport. I gave them my passport. They said that I had violated visa regulations. I denied that and they then told me that I had 24 hours to leave the country."

Separately, three Russian lawyers for Khodorkovskii -- Yelena Levina, Anton Drel, and Denis Dyatlov -- were summoned to the Justice Ministry.

As Levina told RFE/RL, the ministry acted on a request that their license be revoked.

"We have been summoned for a talk," she said. "As far as we understood from the phone conversation [with the Justice Ministry] yesterday, they have been asked to write a proposal that we should be stripped of our credentials.”

Later in the day, the Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed it stood behind a request to strip nine lawyers of their licenses.

Prosecutor's officer spokeswoman Natalya Vishnyakova told a press conference the attorneys had no right to ignore a court order to present Khodorkovskii's appeal earlier this week. Genrikh Padva, the lawyer in charge of the appeal, was receiving treatment in hospital.

She accuse both Yukos executives and the defense team of criminal behavior.

"The so-called most transparent oil company has, as it turns out, used criminal methods at all stages of its activity," Vishnyakova said. "These very methods, which are very close to crime, were used even during court proceedings."

Russian penal authorities announced Khodorkovskii and Lebedev that would be transferred from their remand jail in Moscow to a prison camp within the next 10 days.

It is still unclear where they will serve their sentence, but officials say they will be sent to a penal colony outside Moscow Oblast.

See also:

"Legal Dispute Stalls Khodorkovskii Appeal"

"A Verdict As Long As 'War And Peace'"
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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to​