14.06.2011 | Catherine Belton

Khodorkovsky moved to unknown prison camp



By Catherine Belton in Moscow

Prison authorities in Russia have transferred Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former oil tycoon, to a prison camp in an undisclosed location. The move was decried by his lawyers as unlawful and aimed at derailing his parole hearing.

Mr Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man until his arrest in 2003, lost an appeal at the end of last month against a second case convicting him of embezzling almost all the oil his Yukos oil major produced and laundering the proceeds. He is now set to serve out the remainder of a 13-year sentence that will keep him in a prison colony until 2016.

The arrest of the tycoon, who had openly defied the rule of Vladimir Putin, marked a turning point in the former KGB official’s presidency as the Kremlin clamped down on political opposition and tightened its grip on the economy. Mr Khodorkovsky’s Yukos was dismantled over back tax charges and taken over by the state.

Critics say the continued campaign in the courts against Mr Khodorkovsky highlights the limits of a drive by Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Mr Putin as president, to boost the independence of the judiciary.

Mr Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, said his client had been removed from his cell at Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina detention centre without warning on Friday morning, and his lawyers and family had yet to be informed where he was being sent.

“They didn’t tell us anything, ” Mr Klyuvgant said. “His wife made an official request asking where he was but the authorities returned it without an answer, only saying he had been taken away and that was all.”

Mr Klyuvgant said the tycoon’s wife had been denied her legal right for a meeting with Mr Khodorkovsky before being sent to the prison colony.

Mr Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, have already served more than half of the 13 year sentence since their arrest on a first set of charges of fraud and tax evasion and would have been eligible for parole. Mr Khodorkovsky filed a new request for parole this week after a Moscow court had earlier refused to hear a request, saying he had not filed proper documents.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia violated Mr Khodorkovsky’s rights during his 2003 arrest, but it said his lawyers had failed to provide the incontrovertible proof necessary for a ruling that the arrest was politically motivated.

Mr Khodorkovsky had served part of his first seven-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion in a prison colony not far from the border with China in the uranium mining town of Krasnokamensk.

Amnesty International last month declared Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev prisoners of conscience.

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