Russian Church urges fair trial for oil magnate Khodorkovsky

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The Russian Orthodox Church on Monday called for a fair trial for jailed oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky and urged the judge to show leniency ahead of the verdict expected next week.

"The trial should be fair and the judge should take into consideration all the details of the case," priest Vladimir Vigilyansky, the head of the press service of Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill, told AFP.

The Church has always urged leniency, including for criminals, and the Khodorkovsky case was no exception, Vigilyansky said, adding however that priests should not comment on cases without knowing the details.

Khodorkovsky, the former chief of Yukos oil giant, was Russia's richest man before his arrest in 2003. He was jailed for eight years in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion and last year went on trial on new embezzlement charges.

The judge has announced that he will start reading the verdict on December 15 after prosecutors called for 14-year sentences for Khodorkovsky and his co-accused Platon Lebedev.

In early December the abbot of Moscow's St Daniel monastery, Father Pyotr Meshcherinov, said in an interview for Khodorkovsky's website that "for me, as an observer, the course of the trial is clear: that there was no crime committed in this case."

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

© 2010 AFP

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