Khodorkovsky defence slams Putin's 'interference' in trial

16th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's comments on the new trial of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky represent direct interference in the process, a defence lawyer said on Thursday.

"This is direct interference in the trial and direct pressure on the court," lawyer Yury Shmidt told AFP.

In a stunningly terse statement when asked to comment in his annual televised phone-in on the case of Russia's former richest man, Putin commented: "I believe that a thief must be in prison."

Khodorkovsky, already serving an eight-year sentence in a case that has become a rallying point for Russian liberals, is awaiting the verdict in his second trial on charges of embezzlement.

"We must operate based on the fact that Mr Khodorkovsky's guilt has been proven in court," Putin added.

Shmidt said that such interference was outlawed under Article 17 of the European Convention on Human Rights and as such would allow the defence to make a reference to Putin in any legal appeal against an eventual conviction.

"If Khodorkovsky is convicted then in the legal complaint that we will make to the European Court of Human Rights we will write that Putin declared the guilt was proven just as the court was writing its judgement," he said.

The lead lawyer for Khodorkovsky, Vadim Klyuvgant, said that the Russian strongman had even helped the defence's position with his frank speaking.

"I am very grateful to Vladimir Putin for what he has done today as he has helped us."

"Right at the time when the judge is working on the verdict ... he removed all doubt about who puts pressure on the court and how this is done."

© 2010 AFP

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