Russia's Khodorkovsky says 'doesn't want to die in prison'

2nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Jailed oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky said in court on Tuesday that he did not want to die in prison but nor did he believe he would be acquitted in his trial for fraud and embezzlement.

"While there is always hope, no one believes we will be acquitted," he said in his final submission at his trial at a court in Moscow.

Khodorkovsky called the result of the trial a test of the rule of law in Russia, even though his supporters have denounced the charges brought by the prosecution as a politically motivated farce.

"Millions of people are watching this case hoping that the rule of law will triumph in the country. I don't want to die in prison, but my belief is worth my life," he said at Moscow's Khamovnichesky district court

The former Yukos boss was speaking after the trial judge announced that he would begin pronouncing his verdict on December 15. It is expected that it will take several days to pronounce the full verdict.

Khodorkovsky, who has written numerous articles for Russian and Western media while in jail, ended an eloquent speech with the line: "The fate of each and every Russian citizen is being decided here and now."

As he finished speaking, a round of applause broke out among members of the public in the courtroom, including his elderly parents and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who spoke as a defence witness earlier.

Prosecutors have asked for a sentence of 14 years for Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev on charges of stealing millions of tons of oil.

On Monday, prosecutor Valery Lakhtin sharply accused the defence team of telling lies and of manipulating media under Khodorkovsky's control to create the impression that the trial was politically motivated.

The reading of the sentence may take days or even weeks in a lengthy process in which the judge may read out all the accusations against the men.

Khodorkovsky was jailed for eight years in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges that his supporters argue were trumped up to punish the tycoon for daring to finance opposition parties.

He and Lebedev went on trial on the new charges in March 2009.

At the time of his arrest, Khodorkovsky was seen as a political rival to Vladimir Putin, who was then Russia's president. Putin, who is now prime minister, last year compared the tycoon to gangster Al Capone.

Putin's government insists that Khodorkovsky is guilty of massive financial crimes stemming from the controversial privatisations of the 1990s.

© 2010 AFP

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