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Moscow Court Upholds Convictions Of Khodorkovsky, Lebedev

  • Tom Balmforth

Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky

MOSCOW -- A Moscow Court has upheld the fraud conviction of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev, but cut their jail sentence by a year.

The defense team had earlier demanded the court overturn the sentence meted out to Khodorkovsky and Lebedev in December last year, but could only win a reduced sentence that will keep the pair behind bars until 2016.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were convicted of stealing billions of dollars worth of oil from Khodorkovsky's own company, Yukos, and laundering the proceeds.

The sentence -- the second handed down to the pair – has drawn condemnation from Europe and the United States. It is unlikely the reduced sentence will deflect further criticism.

Yuri Schimdt, one of Khodorkovsky’s defense lawyers, called the ruling "yet another act of shameless, selective and unlawful political lynching, continuing for nearly eight years already and aimed at objectives other than justice."

Critics have seen the case as a politically motivated punishment against Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, for funding the opposition to Vladimir Putin, the former president and current prime minister.

Lead defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant vowed to appeal the decision through any channels available -- both in Russia and abroad.

The defense argued during a one-day appeal hearing on May 24 that the verdict in December read out by Judge Viktor Danilkin, who has since been embroiled in controversy, was groundless.

Speaking from his glass cage in the court room, Khodorkovsky lambasted the verdict and questioned how Russia could modernize while his case continues, alluding to the ramifications his headline-grabbing conviction has had for Russia’s investment climate.

"In what dusty basement did they dig out that venomous Stalinist spider who wrote this gibberish?" he said.

Supporters of Mikhail Khodorkovsky hold his portrait outside a court in Moscow.

"What long-term investment [in Russia] can you talk about with this kind of system of justice?"

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were found guilty of stealing billions of dollars worth of oil from Khodorkovsky's own company, Yukos, and laundering the proceeds.

'No Danger To Society'

The sentence -- the second handed down to the pair -- drew condemnation from Europe and the United States.

Critics have seen the case as a politically motivated punishment against Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, for funding the opposition to Vladimir Putin, the former president and current prime minister.

Lebedev, the former head of Menatep bank, also poured scorn on the verdict.

“Professional incompetence has led to a situation where the facts in the sentence bear no relationship to reality," he said.

The defense argues that the second trial of Khodorkovsky was hindered because high-profile key witnesses, including Putin, did not testify. They have also said that the presiding judge was told what verdict to deliver.

Lawyer Klyuvgant maintains that the verdict was contradictory on a number of points.

"The prisoners were incidentally alleged to have illegally seized and taken illegal control of companies, whose property they then stole. That is to say, they stole what they owned illegally, but still committed misappropriation."

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s appeal had been due to start on May 17, but was postponed at the last minute.

The unexplained delay, which came a day before a much-hyped press conference by President Dmitry Medvedev, drew speculation that it had been delayed to save face for Medvedev, who styles himself as an opponent of “legal nihilism.”

A Politically Motivated Case But 'Not A Prisoner Of Conscience'

At the press conference the following day, Medvedev said that Khodorkovsky posed “absolutely no” danger to society if he were set free.

On May 23, the Party of People’s Freedom, a new liberal party led by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and three other liberal opposition leaders, said they would seek election to the State Duma in December.

They said they would seek the release of Lebedev and Khodorkovsky if they are elected, which analysts have said is unlikely.

The campaign group Amnesty International last week ruled that Khodorkovsky is subject to a "politically motivated" case, but is not a "prisoner of conscience."
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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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