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Russia’s Khodorkovsky appeals new jail term

Russia’s fallen oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Tuesday called on President Dmitry Medvedev to make good on his promises on the rule of law, speaking in court as he appeals his latest conviction.

Russia’s former richest man and now its most famous prisoner, Khodorkovsky made his plea as he was appealing his conviction in a second fraud trial that sparked global condemnation and will likely keep him in jail until 2017.

“The president will have to make a choice on what he and Russia need: a state governed by the rule of law or the possibility of unlawful reprisals. You cannot have both,” a calm and confident-looking Khodorkovsky said from inside a glass-walled enclosure in the courtoom.

He also called on judges to annul the latest verdict, saying its absurdity was obvious.

“You cannot fix this verdict, any cosmetic changes would look silly.

“You either annul it or join the criminals in robes,” he said with his former business partner and fellow prisoner Platon Lebedev sitting by his side.

“I don’t need mercy and am not asking for a reduced sentence,” said Khodorkovsky, sporting a black polo shirt and closely-cropped salt-and-pepper hair.

The Moscow City Court had been initially scheduled to hold the appeal hearing last week but unexpectedly delayed it.

The defence connected the appeal hearing’s sudden postponement with Medvedev’s news conference last week, his first solo public meeting with the media of his three-year presidency.

Asked about the danger Khodorkovsky would pose if he were set free, Medvedev told reporters curtly: “You asked a short question and the answer will be brief as well: absolutely none.’

Khodorkovsky was convicted last year in a second fraud trial in a ruling which is expected to keep him in jail until 2017.

Khodorkovsky, who built up Yukos into Russia’s biggest oil firm before it was broken up by the state, was in December found guilty of money laundering and embezzlement on top of his first 2005 tax evasion conviction.

His supporters have long argued both sets of charges were trumped up by the state to punish Khodorkovsky for financing the opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who then served as president, and ridiculed the circumstances of the second trial.

Putin said ahead of December’s ruling that “prison is the place for a thief” in comments that observers said had spelled doom for Khodorkovsky and crushed any hope of his early release.

Russia is heading into parlimentary polls in December followed by a presidential vote three months later and observers say the ruling duo have a vested interest in keeping the charismatic ex-businessman behind bars in the coming years.

Khodorkovsky’s trial has been watched as a possible indicator of Russia’s future direction under Putin and Medvedev, amid speculation that the powerful prime minister is planning a return to the Kremlin in 2012 polls.