European leaders slam Khodorkovsky sentence

30th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

European leaders blasted the sentencing Thursday of Russian former mogul Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a second fraud trial as politically motivated and a step backward for the rule of law.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, one of Russia's closest allies in the European Union and a key trade partner, said she suspected political meddling in the trial of Khodorkovsky, who was handed a 14-year jail sentence.

"I am disappointed by the verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his tough sentence," Merkel said in a personal statement, after her government said it was "very worried" by the court's ruling.

"The impression remains that political motives played a role in the trial. This contradicts the intentions frequently declared by Russia to pursue the path toward a state based entirely on the rule of law."

France urged Russia to take international criticism of the case on board as Khodorkovsky pursues a likely appeal.

"We call on the Russian authorities to take fully into account the concerns raised by the trial in terms of the necessary affirmation in Russia of values that are part of our shared heritage: the rule of law, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms," foreign ministry deputy spokeswoman Christine Fage said.

The Polish head of the European Parliament highlighted "systemic problems" behind the latest sentence against the Yukos oil company founder.

Parliament president Jerzy Buzek, a former Solidarity activist in Soviet-era Poland, said the judges' decision to keep Khodorkovsky and co-accused Platon Lebedev in jail was an "emblematic symbol" of Russia's failure to modernise.

"I am very disappointed," the former Polish premier said. "The trials of Mikhail Khodorkovsky were the litmus test of how the rule of law and human rights are treated in today's Russia.

"There is still a very long path for Russia to take."

In a strongly worded statement issued minutes before Merkel's, German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the sentence "confirmed my worst fears" and was "completely unacceptable."

"The announcements by Russian politicians that they plan to respect the rule of law in the future have shown themselves to be hollow," she said.

"The new trial, the conviction and the sentence itself are clearly politically motivated. The fact he will be locked away for years can only be explained by the fact that Khodorkovsky is apparently seen as political competition by the powerful in Russia."

Adding to the unusual flurry of press releases by German leaders, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the latest conviction "regrettable" after a trial that had been marred by "many doubts".

"It is in Russia's interest to take the concerns of the international community about the outcome of the trial and how it was conducted into account," he said.

The Russian court had earlier this week convicted Khodorkovsky in his second trial on money laundering and embezzlement charges, a verdict condemned by the United States and other European countries.

Counting time served since his first arrest in 2003, the verdict means that Khodorkovsky will stay in jail until 2017, his official website said.

© 2010 AFP

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