Khodorkovsky co-accused slams 'fraudulent' case

29th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Platon Lebedev, the co-accused of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on Friday accused prosecutors of extortion and fraud in final arguments in the men's trial on fresh embezzlement charges.

Lebedev, speaking in Moscow's Khamovnichesky district court, dismissed the prosecution's claims that the two men stole huge amounts of oil and laundered money as "utter rubbish."

"The claims of the prosecutors can be classified as extortion and fraud," he said.

Lebedev's 90-minute speech was part of the defence's closing arguments after the prosecutors last week demanded 14-year sentences for Khodorkovsky, 47, and Lebedev, 53.

On Wednesday, Khodorkovsky gave a three-hour speech peppered with anecdotes and jabs at the prosecution as he asked the court to acquit him on all the charges, which he has described as absurd.

The prosecution has argued that Khodorkovsky stole more than 200 million tonnes of oil.

Lebedev defiantly rebuked the prosecutors and court officials for not understanding economics.

"I give you one piece of advice: when you are working on an economic case, take advice from economists, otherwise, excuse me, you look silly," he said.

In his closing comments, he told the judge that the trial was a "crime." "You, your honour, are now being asked to legalise this crime," he told the judge.

The two men were jailed for eight years in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges that Khodorkovsky's supporters argue were trumped up to punish the tycoon for daring to finance opposition parties.

Before being convicted, the two men spent two years behind bars in pre-trial detention.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's government insists that Khodorkovsky is guilty of massive financial crimes stemming from the controversial privatisations of the 1990s.

Khodorkovsky's lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told journalists afterwards that the men had not been broken by the trial.

"For seven years now, they have been trying to break those men, but they did not do it, which explains why the prosecutor is so mean and vengeful," he said.

International rights organisations including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Human Rights First wrote an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev saying the trial called into question his "commitment to the rule of law."

"We recommend that you take immediate steps to ensure that the charges against Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev are dropped and that they are released from detention," said the letter, published Friday on Khodorkovsky's website.

© 2010 AFP

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