US slams Russia for Khodorkovsky verdict

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The guilty verdict brought against Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky will have a "negative impact on Russia's reputation," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday.

The chief US diplomat said in a statement that Khodorkovsky's conviction in his second fraud trial "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," Clinton added.

Khodorkovsky and co-accused Platon Lebedev were convicted of embezzlement and money laundering, dashing the hopes of Russian liberals that the trial would show a new approach from Russian courts.

Clinton said the United States welcomed President Dmitry Medvedev's plans for modernizing Russia, "but their fulfillment requires the development of a climate where due process and judicial independence are respected."

She added the United States would be monitoring the appeals process.

The verdict was widely seen as further evidence of the preeminence of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who many believe is planning a return to the presidency in 2012 elections.

Just before the verdict, Putin likened Khodorkovsky to US fraudster Bernard Madoff and declared a "thief must be in prison."

Once the country's richest man and now its most prominent prisoner, Khodorkovsky, 47, is already serving an eight-year sentence for fraud on charges his supporters insist were trumped up by the authorities.

But with his release scheduled for 2011, Khodorkovsky was put on trial last year on charges of money laundering and embezzlement that could see the head of the now-defunct Yukos oil giant stay in jail until 2017.

The US reaction to the Khodorkovsky verdict was similar in tone to that of its European allies.

Germany called it "a step backward" on the road to modernization, while the EU's chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said she "expects" Russia to respect international rights and the rule of law when sentencing Khodorkovsky.

President Barack Obama has sought to improve relations with Moscow despite rising concern in Washington over adverse trends on human rights and the rule of law in Russia.

© 2010 AFP

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