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US concerned over Khodorkovsky ruling in Russia

The United States said Wednesday a Moscow court’s decision to uphold ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s long prison term underscores US concerns that Russia uses its legal system for “improper ends.”

The denial of appeals from Khodorkovsky and co-defendant Platon Lebedev “affirms our concerns about serious due process violations and the use of the legal system for improper ends,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

“Russia cannot nurture a modern economy without also developing an independent judiciary that serves as an instrument for furthering economic growth and modernization, and ensuring equal treatment under the law,” he said.

An appeals judge ruled Tuesday that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, his fellow prisoner and former business associate, will have to serve “13 years each in a general security prison.”

The court cut the Kremlin critic’s jail term by one year until 2016.

Khodorkovsky’s detention began when he was snatched off his private jet in 2003 in the heat of a power struggle with the Kremlin, during which he tried to influence Russia’s energy policies and financed various opposition parties.

The country’s richest man at the time and often mentioned as a potential Kremlin contender, Khodorkovsky had been scheduled for release this year before a Moscow court found him guilty on a second set of fraud charges in December.

The December decision essentially found Khodorkovsky guilty of stealing oil from his own company — a crime that even a former central bank chief and a former economics minister said in court was impossible.

Rights groups view Khodorkovsky as a political victim of former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The defense vowed to file an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.