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Khodorkovsky Says Russian Justice Reform Crucial

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) inside a bullet-proof glass dock in a Moscow court in March 2009

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) inside a bullet-proof glass dock in a Moscow court in March 2009

MOSCOW -- Jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has warned the Kremlin that Russia faces violent unrest if the justice system is not reformed.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and now its most prominent prisoner, compared the judicial process to "a company in the business of legalized violence" and said it was churning out disgruntled potential foes of the government.

"The steamroller that has replaced justice is the gravedigger of the modern Russian state," Khodorkovsky, the former head of the defunct Yukos oil company, wrote in the daily "Nezavisimaya Gazeta."

If it was not reformed, he predicted, "its destruction will occur in the traditional way for Russia -- from below and with bloodshed."

President Dmitry Medvedev has said corruption and abuses in the justice system are formidable hurdles to economic growth.

Medvedev has made police and court reform a major goal of his term, but critics say he has made little progress since his predecessor Vladimir Putin steered him into the presidency in 2008.

Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and is serving an eight-year prison sentence for fraud and tax evasion after a trial Kremlin critics said was motivated by political and economic interests. He could be sentenced to 22 more years if convicted in a second trial under way in Moscow.

He has alleged his trial and the legal assault that bankrupted Yukos were orchestrated by enemies inside Putin's team to punish him for challenging the Kremlin and to bolster state control over the oil industry.

-- Reuters