Russia defends Khodorkovsky ruling

25th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Wednesday defended a court decision to uphold a fraud conviction for ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and lashed out at Amnesty International for calling him a "prisoner of conscience".

A Moscow court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by the former Yukos oil company founder and Kremlin critic against his second fraud conviction and cut his time in jail by just one year until autumn 2016.

The widely-expected ruling drew a round of criticism from the European Union and saw Britain's Foreign Office question Russia's use of selective justice.

London-based Amnesty International meanwhile identified the country's former richest man and presidential hopeful as a "prisoner of conscience," a decision described as misguided by Russia.

"As for the judgement issued by Amnesty International on this issue, let it rest on this organisation's conscience," the foreign ministry's human rights representative Konstantin Dolgov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Dolgov called Khodorkovsky an "economic criminal" and dismissed allegations that the Moscow court's actions had been dictated from above.

"Worldwide practice shows that economic crimes lead to punishments that correspond to each nation's justice system," he said.

Khodorkovsky was first arrested in 2003 in the heat of a power struggle with the Kremlin then presided over by Russia's current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The former tycoon's supporters widely view him as a political victim of Putin who is primarily in prison because Russia's most popular politician is mulling another return to the Kremlin next year.

Khodorkovsky was originally to have been released this year after being convicted in 2005 of fraud and tax evasion.

A court secretary later claimed that Khodorkovsky's second conviction in December was dictated to the presiding judge by more senior judicial authorities with links to powerful Kremlin insiders.

Khodorkovsky remains an unpopular figure in Russia who is remembered for making billions in questionable sweetheart deals of the early post-Soviet era while the majority of the population lived in poverty.

But his second conviction and Tuesday's verdict were condemned by the liberal media as an example of the limited progress Russia has made under President Dmitry Medvedev's more reform-minded rule.

The Vedomosti business daily said in an editorial that the decision "killed a little more of our faith in justice."

© 2011 AFP

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