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Medvedev Orders Review Of Khodorkovsky Case


Jailed ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Jailed ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a review of the legality of the conviction of jailed former Yukos oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, 48, is considered an imprisoned dissident by international human rights groups.

The Kremlin made the announcement on March 5 -- one day after the Russian presidential election in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin secured a return to the presidency for a third term, following two terms from 2000 to 2008.

Khodorkovsky was arrested under Putin's rule in 2003, and Putin has backed the criminal cases that have jailed Russia's former wealthiest man on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

Medvedev's order calls for the Prosecutor-General's Office to complete the review of Khodorkovsky's case by April 1, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported, citing Interfax.

In all, the Kremlin has called for reviews of the convictions of 32 people, including Khodorkovsky's former business partner Platon Lebedev.

Cautious Response

Khodorkovsky's lawyers reacted to the decision with caution.

Yuri Schmidt was quoted as saying: “It may simply be a formal decision, not meaning anything, or it may be a signal from above that they have decided to close the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev case."

Vadim Klyuvgant, another Khodorkovsky lawyer, told the Reuters news agency that the true significance of Medvedev's initiative could be judged only when the outcome of the investigation is known.

The Kremlin's order follows a February 20 meeting, at which opposition leaders handed Medvedev a list of people they regard as political prisoners and want to see released from prison.

READ: Our Russian Service interview with an opposition politician who was at the February meeting with Medvedev (in Russian)

Khodorkovsky, the former head of oil company Yukos, was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005.

In 2010, he and his partner Lebedev were also found guilty of embezzlement.

His supporters, human rights groups and Western governments have said the cases appear to be politically-motivated retaliation against Khodorkovsky for backing opposition political challenges to Putin's leadership.

'Prisoner Of Conscience'

Addressing the Moscow City Court which upheld the 2010 conviction last year, Khodorkovsky said: "In what dusty basement did they dig out that venomous Stalinist spider who wrote this gibberish? What long-term investment [in Russia] can you talk about with this kind of system of justice?"

Khodorkovsky is reviled by his Russian critics for being an "oligarch" who amassed his billions of dollars of wealth during the frequently corrupt process of privatization in the 1990s, when Russian state assets were sold off to well-connected insiders, often at prices below market value.

Khodorkovsky is currently serving out his term at a penal colony in the northern region of Karelia. Under his current sentence he could remain imprisoned until 2017.

Last year, the human rights group Amnesty International recognized Khodorkovsky as a "prisoner of conscience."

In an article published last week in Russia's "Kommersant" newspaper, Khodorkovsky called on opponents of Vladimir Putin's rule to avoid the radicalization of peaceful protests and internal divisions if they want to remain a viable future political alternative in Russia.

In a written response to RFE/RL's questions forwarded by his lawyers, Khodorkovsky urged Russians to snub Putin and vote for "alternative" candidates in the March 4 presidential election.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters