Putin on Khodorkovsky: 'a thief must be in prison'

16th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The crimes of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky have been proven by the Russian judicial system, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday, declaring that a "thief must be in prison".

"I believe that a thief must be in prison," Putin said when asked to comment on the case of Russia's former richest man in his annual question and answer session.

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

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

Putin compared Khodorkovsky's crimes to those committed by the US tycoon Bernard Madoff, who was sentenced last year to a 150-years for investment fraud.

"If we look at the practice of other countries, Mr. Madoff -- for a similar crime, and more or less the same amount of money -- received a 150-year sentence. I think things look a lot more liberal here," Putin said.

An attorney for Khodorkovsky said Putin's comments meant that the court will probably convict the Yukos founder when it start reading its verdict in the second hearing on December 27.

"This speech has an entire series of consequences," attorney Karina Moskalenko told the Interfax news agency.

"First of all, it will lead to a conviction and (speak of) the lack of the independence of the court," the attorney said.

"And second, it will be easier (for the defence) to prove the violation of (Khodorkovsky's) presumption of innocence," Moskalenko added.

Putin further accused Khodorkovsky of personal tax evasion and other serious crimes not covered in the first hearing.

"The charges that he is facing right now, we are talking about hundreds of billions of rubles -- 900 in one case, 800 billion in another (26-29 billion dollars)."

And he once again linked Khodorkovsky to the crimes of Alexei Pichugin -- the company security chief who was found guilty in 2007 of the murder of three people, including the mayor of Nefteyugansk where Yukos had a major oil field.

"And in addition, you know this but I would like to repeat it, I am not talking about him personally, but I would remind you that the head of the Yukos security service is sitting (in jail) for murder. You see, he didn't like the mayor of Nefteyugansk," Putin said.

"There was a woman in Moscow who did give them a small property they wanted to take -- they killed her. The killer that was hired -- they killed him.

"What, did the head of the security service commit all these crimes on his own -- on his own initiative?"

A Moscow court sentenced Pichugin to life in prison, and this marks the second time Putin mentions the case in public despite its absence from the official charge sheet.

© 2010 AFP

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