Russia welcomes Strasbourg ruling on Khodorkovsky

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Russia's justice minister on Wednesday applauded a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the prosecution of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was not politically motivated.

Ruling on a complaint made by the former Yukos boss in 2004, the court said Tuesday there was no "incontestable proof" of selective justice but ordered Russia to pay damages for poor jail conditions.

"The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights should definitely lessen the amount of dishonest and unqualified polemics" around the Khodorkovsky case, minister Alexander Konovalov told the RIA Novosti agency.

"There is too much hysteria over the 'Yukos case' along with unsubtantiated, improper allegations against the Russian justice system," he added.

Supporters of Khodorkovsky, who turned Yukos into Russia's biggest oil firm, argue he was jailed for daring to challenge strongman Vladimir Putin. But Putin bluntly declared last year that "prison is the place for a thief".

The former magnate and his business partner Platon Lebedev are set to stay in jail until 2016 after receiving fresh sentences for fraud, to be served alongside their initial eight-year sentences for tax evasion.

Both men requested parole Tuesday for which they legally qualify after serving half of their 13-year-long terms.

Prison authorities gave Lebedev a glowing reference, calling him "calm, of neat appearance" and "very polite" while Khodorkovsky received none, the website of the jailed magnate's press service said.

Vedomosti business daily on Wednesday cited a former Yukos executive as speculating that an unofficial deal with the authorities would see Lebedev walk free while Khodorkovsky stays in jail.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers denied any such agreement, however, calling the story a "conspiracy theory" on the Echo of Moscow radio.

Intrigue over Russia's famous prisoner flared last month after President Dmitry Medvedev conceded publicly that Khodorkovsky's release would "not be dangerous for society."

A national TV network also aired a primetime report on the case, which has been taboo for many years.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are to testify in court Thursday in the trial in absentia of a former Yukos associate, Antonio Valdes-Garcia, who was charged with embezzlement but fled to Spain while under house arrest in Moscow.

Russia has requested the extradition of Valdes-Garcia, who headed the company Fargoil in the early 2000s, but Spain does not extradite its citizens.

© 2011 AFP

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