Plea for end to Khodorkovsky ‘persecution’
A group of western politicians has urged Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president, to “end the persecution” of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed Yukos oil tycoon, just days before a Moscow judge begins reading the verdict in his second trial.
In an open letter, the politicians – led by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and David Miliband, two former UK foreign ministers, and Bernard Kouchner, the former French foreign minister – said the seven-year legal campaign against Mr Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev had “shaken confidence in the Russian legal system” because it was seen as “not truly motivated by law”.
“As strong supporters of the drive to modernise Russia we cannot stand idly by when rule of law and human values are being so openly abused and compromised,” the letter said. “Stable and reliable partnerships with Russia can exist only where our fundamental common values are shared and applied: where human rights are protected, property rights are secure and justice prevails over corruption.”
The strongly worded call came after last week’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident serving an 11-year jail sentence for subversion, prompting vitriolic criticism from the government in Beijing.
Until his arrest in 2003 on tax fraud charges, Mr Khodorkovsky was a rich oligarch who built up a vast business empire in the 1990s, rather than a political dissident. But his treatment has been seen as emblematic for the stifling of political opposition and the state takeover of the economy under Vladimir Putin’s leadership.
The judge will start delivering the verdict on Wednesday in Mr Khodorkovsky’s second trial, in which he and Mr Lebedev stood accused of stealing all the oil that their Yukos oil company produced between 1998 and 2003 and laundering the proceeds.
Sir Malcolm told the Financial Times that Mr Khodorkovsky had been in prison so long it was “hard to believe his continued imprisonment is the consequence of an independent legal proceeding” but instead was “the consequence of a political decision by the president or the prime minister” to keep him behind bars.
Mr Putin, the former president and now prime minister, has shown no sign of softening his stance on Mr Khodorkovsky, telling an investor conference in October that “corpses were hanging” on “people” in Yukos, once Russia’s biggest oil producer and now bankrupted and taken over by state-controlled Rosneft.
Critics said the charges, for which the two former business partners face a maximum potential sentence of 14 years in jail, are aimed at keeping Mr Khodorkovsky, once a political rival to Mr Putin, behind bars long beyond presidential elections in 2012. The legal campaign against Mr Khodorkovsky has been seen by observers as political revenge for the tycoon’s financing of opposition parties and lobbying to build private pipelines independently from the state.
The case is being closely watched as a test of whether Mr Medvedev is capable of making the court system independent and forging a separate path to Mr Putin, whose power as the theoretically more junior prime minister is still seen as eclipsing his.
The foreign political leaders, in their open letter to Mr Medvedev, said the fresh trial against Mr Khodorkovsky presented the president with an opportunity to “demonstrate that Russia is truly a regime of law today.”
William Hague, Britain’s foreign minister, did not mention Mr Khodorkovsky’s trial directly during a meeting with Mr Medvedev during his first visit to Moscow last month but raised concerns over the “culture of impunity and corruption” that mars Russia’s investment climate.
Text of letter to President Medvedev
Published: December 14 2010 00:02
His Excellency Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Dear Mr. President
We, the undersigned, believe that Russia can and should be a positive force in shaping the development of our increasingly interconnected world. As a major global power, a bridge between East and West and a country with a long and proud history in virtually every field of human endeavour, Russia can exert tremendous positive influence on the world of tomorrow.
You have in your words demonstrated your understanding that Russia’s place in the world depends in large part upon her robust respect for the rule of law and citizens’ fundamental human rights. As such, we believe that the conduct of the cases by the Russian judicial institutions of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev, as well as investigating of the deaths of Sergey Magnitsky, Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov and many others that seek justice in their own home country are of seminal importance in shaping the views of the outside world on Russia’s respect for the rule of law.
Actions are now possible to demonstrate that Russia is truly a regime of law today. The proceedings against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, spun out over seven years have been of particular concern to us. The consensus of respected objective observers is that their ongoing persecution is unjust and not truly motivated by law. This has shaken confidence in the Russian legal system and in your strong will to uphold the Russian Constitution. We therefore hope that the manner in which the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case is decided will strictly adhere to the principles of the rule of law, as enshrined in the Russian Constitution.
As strong supporters of the drive to modernise Russia we cannot stand idly by when rule of law and human values are being so openly abused and compromised. Stable and reliable partnerships with Russia can exist only where our fundamental common values, are shared and applied: where human rights are protected, property rights are secure, and justice prevails over corruption. Ending the persecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and others related to the Yukos Affair, and finding justice for Sergey Magnitsky, Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov and many other victims that seek justice in Russia, would send positive signals of change and show that Russia is indeed on the path towards modernisation. The world is watching very closely the outcomes of these cases on which so much rests for enhancing confidence in your great country.
Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, Former Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1995-1997)
Rt Hon David Miliband MP, Former Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2007-2010)
Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Former Leader of the Liberal Democrats UK (2006-2007) & Former Foreign Affairs spokesperson (1997-2006)
Richard Ottoway MP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Chris Bryant MP, Former Minister for Europe (2009-2010) and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Russia Group
Terry Gilliam - Screenwriter, film director, animator and actor
Bernard Kouchner, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (2007-2010)
Hubert Vedrine, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2002)
Noëlle Lenoir, former Minister of European Affairs (2002-2004), former member of the French Constitutional Court
Jack Lang, former Minister of Culture, former Minister of Education, Member of French Parliament (PS)
Galia Ackermann, Chief Editor of the Russian Service of Radio France International
Andre Glucksmann, Academic, writer and philosopher
Markus Löning, Human Rights Commissioner to the German Government (2010- )
Michael Link, Free Democratic party, Spokesperson for European Politics within the German Federal Parliament
Marina Schuster, FDP & Spokesperson for Human Rights
Ute Granold, Conservative Party Christian Democrart party, Member of the Committee on Human Rights within the German Federal Parliament
Marina Schuster, FDP, Member of the Committee on Human Rights within the German Federal Parliament
Dr. Ludolf von Wartenberg, former member of the presidential board of the Federation of German Industries
Klaus Naumann, former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr
Khristiina Ojuland MEP, former Foreign Minister (2002-2005)
Tunne Kelam, (EPP-Estonia) Vice-President, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (1994-1995)
Heidi Hautala, Chair Subcommittee on Human Rights, (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Finland)
Werner Schulz, Vice-Chair Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Germany)
Bart Staes, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Belgium), Vice-Chair Delegation to the EU-Kazakhstan, EU-Kyrgyzstan and EU-Uzbekistan Parliamentary Cooperation Committees, and for relations with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia
Catherine Bearder MEP (ALDE, UK)
Chris Davis MEP (ALDE, UK)
Michael Gahler MEP (EPP, Germany)
Marian Harkin MEP (ALDE, Ireland)
George Lyon MEP (ALDE, UK)
Cristian Silviu Busoi MEP (ALDE, Romania)
Dirk Sterckx MEP (ALDE, Belgium)
Graham Watson MEP (ALDE – UK)
Renate Weber MEP (ALDE, Romania)
Sławomir Witold Nitras MEP (EPP-Poland)
Hon. Piero Fassino, Responsible for Foreign affairs of the Partito Democratico and former Minister of the Republic (Undersecretary of State for Foreign affairs in 1996, Minister of International trade in 1998 and Minister of Justice in 2001)
Richard V. Allen, former United States National Security Advisor
Leon Aron, American Enterprise Institute
Robert Arsenault, International League for Human Rights
Felice Gaer & Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights
Peter D Hannaford, long-time associate of the late President Ronald Reagan
James Harmon, Chairman, Harmon & Co., LLC, former President of the Export-Import Bank, United States
Katrina Lantos Swett, Tom Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice
Eugene K. Lawson, Co-founder, US-Russia Business Council
James P. Moore, Jr., former United States Assistant Secretary of Commerce
Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, former US Ambassador to the UN and Energy Secretary
Richard Schiff, Actor
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, D66 Dutch politician, former undersecretary of state of foreign affairs and a minister of agriculture
Shimon Stein, former Israeli Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany