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Russia Criticizes Western Pressure Over Khodorkovsky

Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in the defendants' cage before the start of a court session in Moscow on December 28.
Russia's Foreign Ministry has described as "unacceptable" what it says are attempts to influence the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, following Western criticism of the former oil tycoon's conviction for embezzlement and money laundering.

In a statement, the ministry also rejected as "groundless" suggestions that the trial was an example of selective justice.

Outside the Moscow courthouse where Khodorkovsky is on trial, one of his lawyers, Vadim Klyuvgant, took the ministry to task for its statement.

"And the Foreign Ministry is the government entity that deals with international treaties, and these treaties say that human rights and their protection are not an internal affair of any state, but they are primary, ultimate values that are above the national government of any country," Klyuvgant said.

"Listen, it is shameful. Shameful. Why would anyone disgrace the country in this way?"

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 their own company, the former oil giant Yukos, and laundering billions of dollars' worth of funds.

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.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner read a statement to the press by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also expressed concern that politics was being placed above the law in Moscow.

"The conviction in the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev on charges of embezzlement and money laundering raises serious questions about selective prosecution and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations."

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded, "Judgments about the selective application of justice in Russia are groundless. In Russian courts, thousands of cases are handled that involve the legal liability of entrepreneurs."

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.

Reports say it may take Judge Viktor Danilkin days to read the full 250-page verdict and announce a sentence.

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

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.

PHOTO GALLERY: Khodorkovsky: From Young Tycoon To Graying Inmate