Khodorkovsky requests parole as Russia censured

31st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Tuesday received a request from jailed former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky for parole as a European court censured Moscow over a case seen as a test of its commitment to rights.

The supporters of Khodorkovsky, who turned Yukos into Russia's biggest oil firm before it was seized and broken up by the state, have long argued he was imprisoned as punishment for daring to challenge strongman Vladimir Putin.

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay 10,000 euros ($14,380) in damages to the tycoon after finding several violations in the conditions of his arrest and subsequent detention.

However, the Strasbourg-based court rejected his central argument that his case is "politically motivated", it said in a statement.

The decision came just after a Russian court announced it had received a request from Khodorkovsky for parole and amid tentative signs of a shift in the hardline attitude towards the case by the authorities.

"I ask you to examine the issue of my parole," Khodorkovsky said in a request to a Moscow court, posted on his website late on Monday.

"The articles under which I have been convicted provide for this possibility once half the sentence has been completed," he added.

Khodorkovsky's request arrived at the Preobrazhensky district court in Moscow earlier Tuesday, a court spokeswoman told AFP.

His lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told AFP that there were "no legal obstacles" for the parole and said that the court was obliged to examine the request within weeks.

"There is always hope, otherwise how would we live?" he added, while expressing concern that the court could draw out the process by creating "bureaucratic pretexts".

Khodorkovsky has been in detention since 2003 when he was arrested on his jet on the runway of a Siberian airport.

The former magnate and his co-accused Platon Lebedev are serving an eight- year sentence handed down in 2005 for tax evasion and are set to stay in jail until 2016 after receiving another 13-year sentence for fraud.

The parole request is based on the argument that the pair have already served over half of the new 13-year term, when time served is taken into account, and thus have the right for early release according to Russian law.

The Russian authorities have always brushed off widespread international criticism that the case is politically motivated, with Prime Minister Putin bluntly declaring last year that a "thief must be in prison".

But intrigue has flared again in the last few days after a Russian television channel that is usually slavishly loyal to the Kremlin took the highly unusual step of broadcasting a report about Khodorkovsky, virtually a taboo subject.

The Central Television programme on the NTV channel, shown on prime time Sunday evening, broadcast a segment that included comments by Khodorkovsky's main lawyer and even written answers from the prisoner himself.

"This report could not have appeared without approval from above," the Vedomosti daily wrote Tuesday, describing it as "completely unexpected".

Some analysts have detected a split between Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev over the issue. Medvedev, a lawyer by training, said this month that the release of Khodorkovsky would not pose a threat to society.

Khodorkovsky had been scheduled for release this year before a Moscow court found him guilty on a second set of fraud charges in December that his legal team said were absurd.

A former aide to the court where the verdict was given at the end of 2010 sparked a furore earlier this year when she claimed that the judge had been ordered to give the verdict from on high.

Judge Viktor Danilkin -- who was ridiculed in some quarters for delivering the verdict a day before New Year's Eve in a barely audible mumble -- said he would live with the judgement until the "end of my days".

© 2011 AFP

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