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Test failed: Reaction to the sentencing of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev

Responding to the sentence, Khodorkovsky said: "Lebedev and I have shown by example that you cannot count on the courts to protect you from government officials in Russia

Khodorkovsky to serve six more years

Catherine Belton and Isabel Gorst in Moscow

A Russian judge has sentenced Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oil tycoon, to 14 years in jail for embezzlement and money laundering, triggering renewed international criticism of the country’s legal system.

The 14-year sentence was the maximum penalty requested by prosecutors and is likely to keep Mr Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, and Platon Lebedev, his former business partner, in a Siberian prison camp until 2017, taking into account time already served for fraud and tax evasion following his arrest in 2003.

The former oligarch’s second trial had posed a test of pledges by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, to reform the country’s court system and boost its independence.

Mr Khodorkovsky’s supporters said the tough sentence left little doubt over who was calling the shots in the country’s ruling tandem, with Vladimir Putin, Mr Medvedev’s predecessor and now prime minister, seen as eclipsing the president.

The US state department expressed concern that the sentence represented an “abuse of law”, while Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, suggested that the verdict was politically motivated.

Yury Schmidt, a lawyer for Mr Khodorkovsky, said: “Putin signalled to the court who is the boss today and who today decides Khodorkovsky’s fate and life.” added

His client’s arrest in 2003 marked a turning point after which political opposition was stifled and the Russian state began taking over strategic sectors of the economy.

Mr Putin left little doubt this month over what verdict he expected, saying“a thief must sit in jail”.

Ms Merkel said: “The impression remains that political motivations played a role in this trial.” ,” The German chancellor added that the sentence “contradicted Russia’s frequently repeated intention to pursue full adoption of the rule of law”.

The US state department expressed concern at “allegations of serious due process violations and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system”.

In a statement read out by Mr Khodorkovsky’s lead lawyer outside the courtroom, the tycoon said: “You cannot count on the courts to protect you from government officials in Russia . . . But we have not lost hope, nor should our friends.”

Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev were accused of stealing $27bn of oil – or almost the entire output of their oil company, Yukos, produced between 1998 and 2003. Prosecutors alleged that the two men siphoned off oil from their own company via pricing schemes and trading through a network of offshore companies.

Mr Khodorkovsky said the trades were standard business practices and consolidated into the oil group. German Gref, Russia’s former economy minister, testified that he would have noticed such large scale theft had it occurred.

The judge, Viktor Danilkin, dismissed these arguments, accusing the two men of keeping double books for Yukos’s accounts. He also said the fact that they published the US-traded oil company’s accounts in English was a sign they were trying to hide them from view.

Mr Danilkin read the sentence to a packed courtroom, saying Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev could only be reformed through “isolation from society”. Vadim Klyuvgant, lead lawyer for Mr Khodorkovsky, said his team would appeal against the sentence .

Additional reporting by Gerrit Wiesmann in Berlin and Alan Beattie in Washington



UK Statement following the sentencing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky on 30 December.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said:
“I am deeply concerned by the implications of this case concerning Mikhail Khodorkovsky for confidence in how the law is applied in Russia.
The UK calls on Russia to respect the principles of justice and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportional way. In the absence of this the UK and much of the international community will regard such a trial as a retrograde step”.

Jerzy Buzek is reported as having expressed disappointment in the sentences meted out today against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev and said that “this ruling has no relation to legislation and the law”


Responding to the sentence, Khodorkovsky said: "Lebedev and I have shown by example that you cannot count on the courts to protect you from government officials in Russia. The "Churov Rule" is alive and well. But we have not lost hope, nor should our friends."

"The first law of Churov" is named after Vladimir Churov, the Chairman of the Russian Federation Central Election Commission, who said that "Putin is always right".

30 Dec 2010

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev Communications Center


Today [27 December] a Moscow court found Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev guilty of embezzling a staggering two thirds of the total production of the Yukos Oil Company over a six-year period. The conviction in this 22-month mock judicial process confirms the subservience of the judicial system in Russia to corrupt officials who continue to view Khodorkovsky as a threat and who seek to prevent his scheduled release in 2011. Khodorkovsky is already serving an 8-year sentence, handed down in 2005, but dating from his arrest in 2003. Had he been found not guilty he would have been released in 2011, a few months before Russia's 2012 presidential elections. The new unlawful prison term will be announced either this week or shortly after the Khamovnichesky Court reconvenes from holidays in mid-January. Prosecutors have asked for 14 years for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.

According to lead defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant: "The trial was a charade of justice, the charges were absolutely false, but I fear the sentencing will be very real."

The behavior of the prosecutors and of the judge turned the trial into a fiasco. Despite filling time by reading from a 188-volume case file, and parading numerous witnesses into court, prosecutors were unable (and did not even try) to prove how it was possible that Yukos covered its operating costs, invested heavily in capital expenditures and acquisitions and paid taxes and dividends when the entire oil production of Yukos over a six-year period was being stolen, as alleged in the indictment. At the end of the trial, prosecutors further confused their case when they attempted to save face by reducing the volume of oil allegedly stolen by approximately one third.

The authorities misleadingly attempted to portray the process as legitimate. The defendants were permitted to speak in court almost without restrictions, but the judge blocked their lawyers from introducing exculpatory documentary evidence and refused to hear many witnesses and experts. An illusion of adversarial nature and legitimacy was created by allowing the defense to file motions and objections to serious procedural violations, however the judge routinely quashed the vast majority of these motions and did not react to the objections. The defense and the defendants persisted to the end in doing anything they could to document the full extent of the mistrial, and have publicly released online all submissions rejected by the court.

The verdict in this trial is based on patently false allegations that are incompatible with the first case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev and with the enormous tax claims that bankrupted Yukos to the benefit of persons controlling state-run Rosneft. The conviction is also impossible to reconcile with numerous decisions of Russian courts that have recognized the tax claims against Yukos. Today's ruling also contradicts Russia's official position as it attempts to defend its treatment of Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and Yukos before the European Court of Human Rights. There, the Russian authorities allege that it was lawful to impose grossly punitive taxes on proceeds from the sale of oil owned, sold and accounted for by Yukos. On the other hand, in the Khamovnichesky Court the prosecutors allege on behalf of the Russian Federation that the same oil was stolen from the company by Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, and therefore could not have been sold by Yukos. The court supported the slanderous allegations of oil theft despite the fact that the so-called "injured parties", production subsidiaries of Yukos, received not only full compensation for their production costs but also 2 billion USD profits from sales.

Politically it is notable that in the most high-profile trial in Russia, closely-watched by the public and media all over the world, the court could so openly ignore applicable procedural and substantive laws as well as basic notions of fairness. This is testament to the power of those corrupt officials who zealously seek to justify their seizure, control and ownership of Yukos assets and to isolate Khodorkovsky and Lebedev from Russia's business and public spheres - and to keep them in jail as long as possible to achieve these goals. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's most recent (but far from the first) public intervention in the case and undisguised pressure on the court came in televised remarks on December 16, 2010, one day after a last-minute postponement of the reading of the verdict to December 27, 2010. With the judge still deliberating on the case, the Prime Minister directly mentioned the current charges and stated that Khodorkovsky's guilt had been proven in court and that he must stay in jail.

The trial and its verdict are an open challenge - and indeed an affront - to President Dmitry Medvedev's highly-publicized efforts to ensure the rule of law and to reform Russia's criminal justice system and to fight government corruption. If upheld on appeal, this verdict shall be a triumph of corrupt officials controlling Russia's law enforcement and judicial bodies, and a setback for an entire country that aspires yet continually fails to modernize.

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