Khodorkovsky handed 14 year jail term in new trial

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A Moscow court Thursday sentenced Russia's former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky to 14 years in jail in his second fraud trial, a verdict slammed as cruel and absurd by rights activists.

The jailed Yukos oil company founder and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev, already serving an eight year sentence from their first trial, do not qualify for a suspended term, judge Viktor Danilkin told the court.

"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 said.

Lebedev was given an identical sentence.

"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.

Taking into account time served since first his first arrest in 2003, the verdict means that the Yukos oil company founder and Lebedev will stay in jail until 2017, Khodorkovsky's official website said.

"The correction of Khodorokvsky and Lebedev is possible only by way of their isolation from society," the judge told the court.

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.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 14 years for each of the pair in the new trial but also qualified this by saying it should run concurrently with the term handed to the former businessmen in their 2005 case.

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.

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 has been in prison since being snatched off his private jet by Russian security agents in October 2003 just as his dispute with president turned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was becoming public.

The founder of Russia's largest -- and some said best managed -- oil company was later convicted on tax evasion and other charges and sentenced to serve time in a Siberian jail until 2011.

In the new trial, he is 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 says that the charges are 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?"

Danilkin had earlier added to the string of other crimes attributed to the jailed tycoon by saying Khodorkovsky had broken the law by filing some of his financial reports in English only.

The verdict had been largely expected even before Putin used a national television broadcast to affirm that a "thief must be in jail".

Putin's aides later explained that Russia's de-facto ruler was only referring to the first trial and had no personal views about the second case.

But the defence team and many observers interpreted the comments as a direct order for the court to convict Khodorkovsky again.

© 2010 AFP

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