US slams Khodorkovsky verdict

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The United States Monday denounced a Russian court's conviction of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, voicing deep concern at the verdict and warning it risked tarnishing Moscow's reputation.

"We are deeply concerned that a Russian judge today has indicated that for a second time Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev will be convicted," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, traveling in Hawaii with President Barack Obama.

Khodorkovsky and co-accused Platon Lebedev, already in prison on previous fraud charges, were convicted Monday on embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Khodorkovsky, the head of the now-defunct Yukos oil giant, insists the trial was politically motivated by his support for Russia's opposition.

"We are troubled by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends," Gibbs said.

"The apparent selective application of the law to these individuals undermines Russia's reputation as a country committed to deepening the rule of law."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier said the verdict "raises serious questions about selective prosecution -- and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations."

"This and similar cases have a negative impact on Russia's reputation for fulfilling its international human rights obligations and improving its investment climate," the chief US diplomat said in a statement.

Once Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky's release on his first conviction was scheduled for next year, but then he was put on trial last year on charges of money laundering and embezzlement, deemed trumped-up by his supporters.

It was not clear in Moscow when the final sentence would be delivered, and Clinton said the US would monitor the appeals process.

Gibbs said Russia was undermining its rule of law, bilateral ties to Washington and its ability to move forward as a modern nation.

"The Obama administration stands in solidarity with the many people in the Russian government, in the legal system, and in civil society who are committed to strengthening the rule of law and deepening the commitment to universal values enshrined in the Russian constitution," he said.

"Russia's failure to keep this commitment to universal values, including the rule of law, impedes its own modernization and ability to deepen its ties with the United States."

Obama has spoken often with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the case, Gibbs added.

Moscow "cannot nurture a modern economy without also developing an independent judiciary that serves as an instrument for furthering economic growth, ensuring equal treatment under the law, and advancing justice in a predictable and fair way," Gibbs added.

© 2010 AFP

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