Russian Presidential Inquiry Finds Khodorkovsky Trial Fundamentally Flawed


Mihail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev

Trial a "Miscarriage of Justice"

"No evidence" supports theft and embezzlement charges against Khodorkovsky

Guilty Verdict should be "Annulled"

Council Discusses Possible Amnesty for Wrongfully Jailed Entrepreneurs, to Restore Public Confidence in Courts and Law Enforcement System

Read a statement from Khodorkovsky defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant on the inquiry's report

Moscow (December 21, 2011) - A Kremlin-backed independent expert inquiry has identified serious and widespread violations of the law in the second prosecution and conviction of former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, leading the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for Civil Society and Human Rights to call for an annulment of the verdict.

The inquiry leaves in tatters the legal rationale for the continued imprisonment of Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev following their second trial, which ran from March 2009 to December 2010. More broadly, the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case highlighted widespread systemic problems in Russia's law enforcement practices and judiciary, prompting the Council to elaborate recommendations for a series of urgent reforms.

Despite the damning nature of the inquiry's conclusions, it has no judicial force and cannot compel the courts to reopen the case for reconsideration. However, the Council found that the violations in this emblematic case were so grave and so obvious that the verdict should be annulled through appropriate legal channels.

The results of this inquiry were publicly announced today at a meeting of the Council held in the offices of the presidential administration in Moscow. In a draft report presented at today's meeting, the Council recommends that President Dmitry Medvedev support a legislative initiative to grant amnesty to wrongfully imprisoned Russian entrepreneurs, presumably including Khodorkovsky. Such an amnesty is cited as a prerequisite for economic growth in Russia and for a restoration of public confidence in law enforcement and the courts.

RIA Novosti today quoted the report as stating: "it is necessary to raise with the Prosecutor General the issue of appealing the current verdict in order to annul it." The Russian news agency further quoted former Constitutional Court judge Tamara Morshchakova saying that "no evidence" supported the theft and embezzlement charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, adding: "There are no norms in the Russian Criminal Code to assess the actions of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as criminal".

In February 2011, President Medvedev mandated the Council to conduct an independent expert assessment of the second Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case. President Medvedev's initiative came in response to public criticisms of multiple abuses by state officials in the handling of the case.

Experts involved in the inquiry categorically rejected the court's findings about the illegality of Yukos's operations. They further found no evidence proving allegations of embezzlement or money laundering. The experts also pointed out that the case contradicted judgments in other Yukos-related cases, which have not been overturned, and which subjected Yukos to punitive taxation on oil sales; in this case, the same oil was found to have been stolen, which would have precluded it from being taxed. In terms of due process, the experts found violations of the presumption of innocence; a lack of competence and independence of the court; non-consideration and rejection of evidence favourable to the defendants; the prosecution was unfairly granted procedural advantages over the defence; and a multitude of other violations. A comparison of the indictment and the verdict revealed that the judge simply copied vast tracts of the indictment, verbatim, into the verdict.

The inquiry prompted the Council to consider recommending the adoption of numerous reforms, including an expansion of the use of jury trials; a reinforcement of measures ensuring judicial independence; protections of the right to an effective defence at trial; a restriction of broad interpretation and application of criminal law; the removal of abusive procedural obstacles that prevent the release of prisoners on lawfully-earned parole; and a reduction in the use of pre-trial detention in cases of alleged economic crime. Citing the socially disruptive and economically repressive effects of the wrongful imprisonment of thousands of Russian entrepreneurs who have fallen victim to corrupt state officials, the Council discussed the possibility of a broad amnesty for these prisoners.

The final text of the Council's recommendations will be finalized and adopted by December 26, 2011.

This inquiry follows a report of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, released in September 2011, which severely criticised the second Khodorkovsky-Lebedev trial. The IBAHRI report cited numerous legal failings and violations showing the proceedings were "incapable of producing clear proof" for a sound conviction, and concluded that "this trial was not fair".

In May 2011,  Amnesty International declared Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to be prisoners of conscience.

About the Presidential Council for Human Rights

The Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for Civil Society and Human Rights is an official state consultative body established to assist the President in the exercise of his constitutional responsibilities as guarantor of human and civil rights and liberties. The Council informs, advises and drafts proposals for the President on matters within its mandate and facilitates the development of civil society institutions in Russia. This official institution of the Russian presidency was established in 1993, as Russia's modern constitution came into force. The 40-member Council is composed of Russia's most prominent and highly respected human rights and civil society advocates and experts.

About the Inquiry

The Council's inquiry on the second Khodorkovsky trial was conducted from April to December 2011 by a multidisciplinary group of nine independent experts vetted for conflicts of interest and working without remuneration. While constituted mostly of Russians, the group of nationally and internationally renowned figures also included experts from Germany, the Netherlands and the United States. The experts were mandated to study the second Khodorkovsky trial for compliance with Russian and international norms, to identify trends in Russia's judicial and law enforcement practice and to elaborate possible recommendations for reform.

Experts who participated in the inquiry included: Ferdinand Feldbrugge, Leiden University, The Netherlands; Sergei Guriev, New Economic School, Moscow, Russia; Jeffrey Kahn, SMU Dedman School of Law, Dallas, Texas, United States; Otto Luchterhandt, University of Hamburg, Germany; Anatoly Naumov, Academy of the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation, Moscow, Russia; Oksana Oleynik, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia; Alexey Proshlyakov, Ural State Law Academy, Yekaterinburg, Russia; Mikhail Subbotin, Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; Astamur Tedeev, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.

Outcome of the Second Khodorkovsky-Lebedev Trial

After their second trial and a failed appeal in May 2011, Khodorkovsky and his co-accused business partner Platon Lebedev were sentenced to an overall total of 13 years in prison. Counting time served since their incarceration in 2003, their release is now scheduled for 2016. If not for the second trial, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev would have been released in 2011, having completed the 8-year sentence from their previous conviction. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have continued to lodge appeals in Russia against their second conviction, so far without success. In November 2011, they also appealed the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Russia's Supreme Court can still remedy the outcome of the case, and may consider the conclusions of the inquiry and the recommendations of the Presidential Council for Human Rights.

Additional Resources

For more information about the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for Civil Society and Human Rights, and its inquiry into the second Khodorkovsky-Lebedev trial, please visit

To access the official report and recommendations released by the Council (in Russian only), please click here.  

For more information about the International Bar Association's report on the second Khodorkovsky-Lebedev trial, please click here.

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