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Khodorkovsky, Lebedev Appeal Prison Sentences


Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) and his business partner Platon Lebedev who are currently serving sentences for theft and money laundering
MOSCOW -- Defense attorney Vadim Klyuvgant began his quest today to overturn Mikhail Khodorkovsky's controversial conviction for theft and money laundering, but the court quickly adjourned for a week on the basis of new objections by the defense.

Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005. Just as their sentences were set to expire last year, prosecutors filed fresh charges. In December, in a verdict widely seen as politically motivated, the two were sentenced to remain in prison until 2017.

Klyuvgant told RFE/RL's Russian Service on the eve of the May 17 hearing that he would demonstrate that the verdicts against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were inconsistent with the facts and testimony presented in the trial.

"No person presiding over a case for twenty months as a professional lawyer with great experience as a professional judge could, in lieu of a verdict, create the piece of work that we received and heard in that court room," he said.

A Russian court adjourned the appeal until May 24. Judge Vladimir Usov at Moscow City Court said the appeal was adjourned as the defense had submitted additional objections against the verdict.

Political Pressure

The process came under fresh criticism in February when Natalya Vasilyeva, an aide to that case's presiding judge, Viktor Danilkin, alleged that the verdict was the result of political pressure on the court. Vasilyeva claimed that Danilkin had not even written the verdict that he read out in court.

Danilkin denied the allegations and Vasilyeva resigned as his aide in March.

For his part, Klyuvgant says the verdict was based on far-fetched charges that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had stolen oil that did not even exist.

"How could the court have taken into account the amount stolen in this so-called verdict if in this verdict it says that more was stolen than had been produced?" he says.
Viktor Danilkin, the presiding judge in the Khodorkovsky case, allegedly "took orders" from other people.

Klyuvgant also said that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin improperly used his influence to pressure the court.

Speaking about the Khodorkovsky case on national television two weeks before the verdict, Putin said that a "thief should sit in jail."

Such a statement, Klyuvgant said, could be interpreted as an order from the powerful politician.

"Justice here is not dictated by the prime minister," he says. "But there is at least an assumption here that essentially sounds like: 'I have spoken and so shall it be.'"

Klyuvgant also says the case was flawed because high-profile politicians, including Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, did not testify as witnesses.

A panel of three judges will hear a series of complaints lodged by the defense team, as well as individual ones lodged by Khodorkovsky and Lebedev themselves, Klyuvgant said.

Klyuvgant added that judging from past experience, the appeal may not be successful.

"Unfortunately, practice shows that the appeal process does not carry out those tasks that the law requires it to," he says.

Amnesty International’s 2011 report, released last on May 13, called the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev trial "unfair" and said it was "marred by procedural violations, including the harassment of witnesses and the court's refusal to hear key defense witnesses."

The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the report, calling it "politically biased."

After Khodorkovsky's conviction in 2005, Yukos, the oil giant he ran, was dismantled and absorbed into the state-owned oil company Rosneft.

written by Tom Balmforth based on reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service
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