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U.S., Germany Lead Condemnation Of Khodorkovsky Verdict

Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands between police officers at a courtroom in Moscow on December 27.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands between police officers at a courtroom in Moscow on December 27.

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By RFE/RL
The United States and Germany have led world condemnation over the new conviction in a Moscow court of Kremlin critic and former Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In a written statement, the White House said it was troubled by allegations of due process violations and what appears to be "an abusive use" of the Russian legal system.

The White House statement added that the ruling undermines Russia's commitment to deepening the rule of law and hurts Moscow's ability to strengthen ties with the United States.

Germany has delivered strong European criticism of the conviction, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying the way the trial has been conducted was highly questionable and marks a "step backward" on Russia's path to modernization.

A statement from the office of EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU "expects Russia to respect its international commitments in the field of human rights and the rule of law." It added that the EU would "continue to follow developments very closely," including the sentencing in the case.

Officials in Britain and France also called on Russia to uphold its commitment to the rule of law.

German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loening offered a more pointed reaction, saying he was "outraged" at the guilty verdict, which he described as "an example of arbitrary political justice."

Amnesty International and other rights watchdog groups have called on Russian courts to overturn Khodorkovsky's conviction. Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty's director for Europe and Central Asia, said the Russian authorities' "disregard for due process" strengthened the impression that this second round of convictions was politically motivated.

'Show Trial' Accusations

Already imprisoned since 2003 for fraud and tax evasion, Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were found guilty on December 27 of stealing oil from Yukos and laundering billions of dollars in funds.

Prosecutors are seeking an additional six years in prison -- which would keep the defendants in jail until 2017.

Reports say it may still take judge Viktor Danilkin days more to read the full verdict and announce a sentence.

Supporters of Khodorkovsky say the charges have no merit and accuse the authorities of conducting a political show trial aimed at keeping Khodorkovsky, a prominent critic of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, behind bars as Russia's 2012 presidential election approaches.

As the verdict was read, hundreds of people gathered outside the central Moscow court, chanting "freedom" and "shame." Police arrested at least 20 people.

Inside, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev sat impassively in a glass cage as the verdict was being read. Khodorkovsky's elderly father, Boris, held his head in despair.

The judge said Khodorkovsky and Lebedev carried out a series of false deals to enable themselves to steal oil from Yukos's subsidiaries.

WATCH: Protesters outside the courtroom where Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were on trial call for "freedom" and "Russia without Putin."

Khodorkovsky Found Guilty In Second Triali
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December 27, 2010
A Russian judge pronounced Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev guilty of embezzlement on December 27 at the end of the jailed former oil tycoon's politically charged second trial. Khodorkovsky was set be released from a first prison term next year, but is now expected to remain behind bars for several more years.

Appeal Planned

One of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, Vadim Klyuvgant, said his client would appeal the verdict because the decision was made under political pressure.

"If the court was free and independent to make this decision, it couldn't have been able to make any decision but an acquittal," Klyuvgant said. "What we are hearing is not a direct, but certainly an indirect, confirmation of this fact. The court wasn't free to make the decision. We will certainly appeal the verdict after it is announced in full."

Yury Shmidt, another lawyer for Khodorkovsky, told RFE/RL that the pressure on Judge Danilkin was "unprecedented," to the point that he "simply decided to rewrite the indictment as a verdict."

Khodorkovsky's verdict was due to be read earlier this month but was postponed in a move Kremlin critics believe was meant to minimize publicity by taking place during the winter holidays.

Speaking before the verdict's first scheduled start, Maksim Dbar, spokesman for Khodorkovsky's defense team, called the accusations against their client "absurd," saying they contradicted the outcome of his first trial.

"The main thing the charges are missing is an actual crime," Dbar said. "Even after 20 months of trial, no one understands what Khodorkovsky is actually accused of."

PHOTO GALLERY: Supporters rally for Khodorkovsky
:

  • Around 1,500 supporters gathered outside the central Moscow court today where the guilty verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev was read.
  • Outside the courthouse, supporters chanted "freedom" and "shame."
  • They say the charges against him are politically motivated.
  • Police arrested at least 20 people at the rally.


Political expert Kirill Rogov told RFE/RL's Russian Service that today's decision represents an important development in Russian history because it shows the authorities in Russia don’t rule on a legal basis.

"The contract [between the authorities and the people] is becoming increasingly tattered," Rogov said. "It's happening slowly, but today's verdict is a signal that will play an important role in that process."

In his final statement during the trial, Khodorkovsky said the process showed the officials running Russia's "bureaucratic and law enforcement machine" are free to do whatever they want.

"There is no right of private property," he said. "No person who conflicts with the 'system' has any rights whatsoever."

Controlled From Above

Khodorkovsky's supporters say a recent statement by Putin shows Russia's court system is controlled from above. Speaking during a television call-in show before the verdict, Putin said Khodorkovsky's crimes had already been "proven in court," and evoked a line from a popular Soviet-era film.

"Just like the well-known character played by Vladimir Vysotsky, I believe that 'a thief should be in jail,'" Putin said.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers accused Putin -- who most Russians believe remains Russia's supreme leader -- of openly interfering in the court proceedings.

Putin's handpicked successor, President Dmitry Medvedev -- who's frequently promised to clean up Russia's legal system -- appeared to play down charges that Khodorkovsky's verdict was decided in the Kremlin during a televised interview on December 24.

Khodorkovsky gestures while standing behind a glass wall in the Moscow courtroom today.

"Neither the president, nor any other official employed by the state," he said, "has the right to express his or her position on this case or any other case before the verdict is announced -- whether guilty or not guilty."

One of Medvedev's top advisers has said Khodorkovsky should be freed. But many believe that was never likely because his real crime was to have posed a political threat to Putin by funding opposition parties and using his vast influence to lobby against Putin's aim of building an oil-fueled authoritarian regime.

Andrei Semyonov, one of the protesters outside the courthouse today, echoed the views of other demonstrators.

"This isn't a court trial from the point of view of the law," he said, "but an act of personal vengeance from Vladimir Putin for insults Khodorkovsky made him in the past."

'Criminal State'

Putin has claimed to have imposed order in Russia by cracking down against the corruption that enabled Khodorkovsky and other oligarchs to plunder the country for their own benefit. But Khodorkovsky's supporters say today's decision is a barometer for what's really happening in Russia, saying he put the Kremlin at the top of a corrupt bureaucratic system.

Khodorkovsky's 77-year-old mother, Marina Khodorkovskaya, said before the verdict that a guilty decision would show the authorities are frightened of political threats "more than anything else."

"[What's happening in Russia] is terrible for people inside the country," she said, "and probably not pleasant for European countries because right next to them is an authoritarian, criminal state."

written by Gregory Feifer, based on reporting from RFE/RL's Russian Service and news agencies
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Zoltan from: Hungary
December 27, 2010 11:58
Shame on Russia!

President Medvedev is this your way toward liberalisation?

This is Lukashenko's way...

Mikhail we are with You!

by: vlad from: moldova - us
December 27, 2010 19:44
Show case. Putin points all and everybody in Russia who is the boss there. The point - obey and fear. Going against the tsar Putin will get one in trouble and nobody will help you.

Medvedev is not that good as he tries to look like. Russia is a totalitarian state. Many Russians are not happy with Medveputa as they call it.

by: Tom from: United States
December 28, 2010 03:06
It does seem from the way Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are being treated (in lengthening the period of their detention) that there is an agenda, however veiled, by the Russian system of justice to punish these people for the wealth they created and innovative ideas they had, regardless of what industry they have bee in. In one way, and among its people, the authorities in that country increase their credibility as systemic conformists. The consequences could be Orwellian, espcially since these very well - to - do, and famous business people could be arbitrarily, again, detained for years.

by: Sundararajan RS Iyengar from: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
December 28, 2010 07:58
Such kind of acts by the Russian Government are deplorable and that it should be known that political pressure has no way in playing any role in the judicial system of a country.

If there is such a kind of role then the country is deemed to be heading towards a disastrous situation and that it would very much destroy the economy of the country, which may in turn bring the doom very soon.

Better Mr. Medvedev understands that and that Mr. Putin should also spare his countrymen, who do the business in a more transparent way more than those (mafia) who do the business with threats.


by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
December 28, 2010 14:59
If the international community were truly concerned with this travesty of justice, they would boycott all Russian fossil fuel sales. This, however, is never going to happen. Putin can continue to comfortably play the role of the all-powerful, energy drug-lord, and mock the 'righteous indignation' of his addicted customers. Khodorkovsky is another victim of our oil/gas dependency.

by: Michael from: South Africa
December 30, 2010 14:09
Khodorkovsky is guilty, so ?
1.Why do you not complain about the UK & USA killing innocent people in Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan, Africa etc.
2. You dont complain about Bush, Blair, Clinton, Gates not being indicted for war crimes.
3. Nothing is said about the war in Iraq and Afganistan being for the oil.
4. What about the CIA's torture camps in Europe.

Putin is King and you are jealous.

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