Khodorkovsky sentence highlights 'abusive' Russia: US

30th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The United States decried Russia's extended sentence for jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky as an "abusive use" of the legal system on Thursday and warned that the country's economy will stagnate without an independent judiciary.

"We remain concerned by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends, particularly now that Khodorkovsky and (co-accused Platon) Lebedev have been sentenced to the maximum penalty," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"Simply put, the Russian government cannot nurture a modern economy without also developing an independent judiciary that serves as an instrument for furthering economic growth, ensuring equal treatment under the law, and advancing justice in a predictable and fair way," Toner said.

Khodorkovsky as head of Yukos oil company was Russia's richest man when he was first arrested in 2003. He had been scheduled for release in 2011 but the new convictions on money laundering and embezzlement will see him stay in jail until 2017, removing a key opponent of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from the political scene for years to come.

The guilty verdict this week provoked a strong reaction in the West, with the White House saying it was "deeply concerned" about the "selective application of justice."

In the new trial, which the defense said was influenced by Putin, Khodorkovsky was accused of stealing 218 million metric tons of oil worth more than 26 billion dollars from Yukos between 1998 and 2003.

Khodorkovsky's supporters see him as a martyr punished for daring to challenge strongman Putin, but Russian officials say he is a corrupt tycoon who broke the law.

© 2010 AFP

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