Judge rules Khodorkovsky to stay in jail for six more years

30th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday ordered its former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky to stay in jail for six more years after his second trial, sparking accusations the tough verdict was ordered by Vladimir Putin.

Judge Viktor Danilkin sentenced Khodorkovsky and his co-accused Platon Lebedev to 14 years in jail after finding them guilty of money laundering and embezzlement in a trial that started in March 2009.

With the sentence back-dated to his initial arrest in 2003, Khodorkovsky will stay in jail until 2017, removing a key opponent of president turned Prime Minister Putin from the political scene for years to come.

"The correction of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev is possible only by way of their isolation from society," the judge said as he passed sentence.

The reading of the verdict in the packed courtroom was the culmination of the most controversial trial in Russia's post-Soviet history which critics said was staged simply to punish Khodorkovsky for daring to oppose Putin.

"May you and your offspring be damned!" one woman, apparently Khodorkovsky's mother, shouted as the verdict was read out. But the two defendants reacted calmly to the decision, an AFP correspondent in court said.

"This is not a sentence, this is a case of lawlessness," defence lawyer Yury Shmidt told reporters after the sentence which he vowed to appeal. "There was pressure from the executive branch which is now headed by Putin."

The sentence fulfilled without the slightest sign of leniency the demands of prosecutors who had asked for a 14-year sentence and for the pair to stay in jail until 2017, taking into account time served since arrest in 2003.

"It's a cruel, shameful sentence which shows the absence of independent courts in Russia," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, one of Russia's top rights activists.

"An independent court would never have given such a verdict in this absurd case," she told the Interfax news agency.

In a statement read out by the defence outside the court, Khodorkovsky said his example shows "you cannot hope for legal protection in Russia from bureaucrats."

But the fallen tycoon added that he and Lebedev "have not become dejected and we wish this for all our friends".

Judge Danilkin earlier this week convicted the pair in their second trial on money laundering and embezzlement charges, a verdict condemned by the United States and other European countries as selective prosecution.

Germany lashed out at the sentence and trial.

"The impression remains that political motives played a role in the trial," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "This contradicts the intentions frequently declared by Russia to pursue the path toward a state based entirely on the rule of law."

Russia's complex sentencing procedure required the judge to read out the hundreds of pages in the judgement after Monday's guilty verdict before giving his decision.

In a scene sometimes bordring on farce, Danilkin hurried through the reading of the full verdict, keeping his eyes fixed on the document and not looking at the court, with his words frequently inaudible.

Khodorkovsky turned his company Yukos into Russia's largest and some said best managed oil company after acquiring assets in the chaotic post-Soviet privatisations of the 1990s.

But he has been in prison since being snatched off his private jet by Russian security agents in October 2003 and has always alleged he was being punished for daring to finance the opposition to then president Putin.

In 2005, he was convicted on tax evasion and other charges and sentenced to eight years in jail.

In the new trial, he was charged with embezzling 218 million tonnes of oil from his Yukos oil giant between 1998 and 2003 and laundering 487 billion rubles (16 billion dollars) and 7.5 billion dollars received from the oil.

The defence called the charges utterly absurd since the amount of oil said to have been embezzled would be equivalent to the entire production of Yukos in that period.

"If they stole billions then I ask, where are those billions?" Khodorkovsky's father Boris told reporters at the trial. "Does he have anything of his own now, does he have personal property?"

The verdict had been largely expected even before Putin used a national television broadcast to affirm that a "thief must be in jail", comments many interpreted as a direct order for the court to convict Khodorkovsky again.

© 2010 AFP

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