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EU observer: Khodorkovsky trial likely to be unfair

Published on 04/03/2009

Berlin — A European Union legal observer said Tuesday there is "absolutely no reason" to believe that the second trial of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky will be fair.

"The arbitrariness of the state’s influence on the latest trial is clear," said former German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who has been assigned by the Council of Europe to observe the case.

Speaking on German radio station Bayerische Rundfunk, she said that the first trial in 2005 was peppered with legal flaws and that the state was clearly acting in its own interest when the 45-year-old former billionaire was sentenced to eight years in jail for fraud and tax evasion.

If found guilty, Khodorkovsky, who irritated the Kremlin by openly funding opposition parties in the run-up to 2003 parliamentary elections, could be sentenced to 22 years in jail.

He is currently serving his sentence in a Siberian prison camp from where he was flown to Moscow last week for his court appearance.

In the latest trial which started on Tuesday, he faces charges of embezzlement and illegal transactions of more than 900 billion roubles (25 billion dollars) carried out between 1998 and 2003.