Defence fears the worst in 'absurd' Khodorkovsky trial

14th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The charges against Russia's former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky in his second trial are an "absurd" set-up but he still risks receiving another heavy jail term, one of his lawyers said.

Yury Shmidt told Agence-France Presse in an interview that the trial of the former Yukos oil giant boss, was a political process ordered at the highest level of the country.

The judge in the case will start reading the judgment on Wednesday.

Khodorkovsky and his co-accused Platon Lebedev, already serving an eight-year sentence for fraud, were accused of embezzling 218 million tonnes of Yukos' oil worth over 26 billion dollars and laundering a similar amount.

"Khodorkovsky is accused of stealing all the oil extracted by Yukos over six years and laundering all the proceeds," Shmidt, a leading member of a high-profile defence team of liberal Russian lawyers, said earlier this week.

"This accusation is ridiculous. For six years, the company made significant profits, increased its capital, paid its taxes, the salaries of 150,000 employees and the dividends for shareholders.

"Accusing the chief executive of this company of stealing all the oil in an organised fashion with the management -- this would make you die of laughing if it were not so tragic.

"It's absurd, it's schizophrenic."

Shmidt indicated there was little chance of the final verdict being read out rapidly: it would take "at least one week" for the judge to read out his decision, he said.

He said that while the defence believed the evidence was firmly on the side of the jailed ex-tycoon, there was little chance of him being cleared by the Moscow court. If found guilty, the pair could face up to 14 more years in jail.

"I am hoping for an acquittal. But reason overcomes sentiment and shows that an acquittal is not possible as that would signify a crushing defeat for the authorities.

"The only mystery is the severity of the conviction.

"This case goes beyond the field of justice and into one of political interests. The personality of Vladimir Putin is central to the case. It is without doubt a political trial."

Khodorkovsky's supporters claim that he was jailed and then put on trial on trumped-up new charges as revenge by the authorities for his daring to finance opposition parties.

They say the pursuit of the oil tycoon was personally ordered by former president turned prime minister Putin and his right-hand man Igor Sechin.

Putin has also accused Khodorkovsky of involvement in contract killings, in allegations that have never come before a court. Shmidt said that the powerful premier was "allowing himself to meddle insolently in legal affairs".

But the authorities insist that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were justly jailed for corrupt behaviour during the economic chaos of the 1990s and that they are being given a fair trial.

Shmidt said that his client could have easily left Russia for safety when clouds were gathering before his arrest and would not seek to base himself abroad even when he is finally released.

"I know that he does not have the intention to leave Russia forever.

"If he had wanted, he should have done so in 2003 knowing that he would be arrested. But he chose voluntarily the fate of a political prisoner rather than a political exile."

© 2010 AFP

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