Russian court: ex-tycoon guilty
Moscow court convicts Mikhail Khodorkovsky along with his business partner of embezzling $27bn.
Last Modified: 27 Dec 2010 09:31 GMT

Neave Barker reports from Moscow on the reaction to Khodorkovsky's guilty verdict.

A judge in the Russian capital has found jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev guilty of embezzling $27bn worth of oil.

Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from Moscow, said that a lesser charge involving stealing shares of an oil company has been dropped.

"All indications are now that the two may well spend another six years in prison, bringing their total period of incarceration to 14 years," he said.

The complete verdict may take up to five days to read.

Khodorkovsky is already serving an eight-year sentence for tax evasion in a case his supporters say is politically motivated, as he sponsored the political rivals of Vladimir Putin, Russia's former president and current prime minister.

Khodorkovsky himself had always insisted that the case against him amounted to a political vendetta.

"Khodorkovsky had somewhat resigned himself to spending old age behind bars," our correspondent said.

"His supporters, his defence team and he himself, along with his associate Platon Lebedev, believe that this was very much a politicised case; that Khodorkovsky was being punished for mixing essentially business and politics in the 1990s; punished for having political ambitions that directly challenged the authority of former president Vladimir Putin," said Barker.

'External pressure'

Vadim Klyuvgant, Khodorkovsky's lawyer, said external pressure on Viktor Danilkin, the judge, influenced the guilty verdict.

"From what we are hearing, we have no hesitation in saying that the court was under pressure. The court was not free to make a decision, because even if they theoretically found some kind of a crime, a free and reasonably-thinking man couldn't have written the things in the verdict a priori (according to the facts) couldn't have happened," he said.

Klyuvgant also told hundreds of supporters and media gathered outside of the courthouse that he will appeal the sentence once announced.

The international community, Barker said, sees Khodorkovsky's case as a test of the country's investment climate.

"This is a case that has left a key business figure of the 1990s behind bars - something that put off foreign investments and domestic investors for a long period of time. They're very weary about the business climate of this country and they're watching the Khodorkovsky case as an indicator of the health of it."

 A long battle

Russian police on Monday detained 20 demonstrators outside the Moscow courthouse where Khodorkovsky's verdict was delivered. Hundreds had gathered , chanting "Freedom!" in support Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia's richest man.

Khodorkovsky has been in a Moscow prison since 2003, but a court ruled in May that his detention would be extended pending a new trial. He embarked on a hunger strike in protest of the extension of his sentence.

He ended his strike after Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, was made aware of his situation.

US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks indicate that US officials feel the charges against Khodorkovsky are politically motivated.

One cable states that Khodorkovsky's trial reveals "the effort that GOR (government of Russia) is willing to expend in order to save face, in this case by applying a superficial rule-of-law gloss to a cynical system where political enemies are eliminated with impunity."

Putin earlier this month compared Khodorkovsky to US fraudster Bernard Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in jail, and observed that a "thief must be in prison".

Putin has also in the past accused Khodorkovskyof contract killings, accusations that have never been raised in court. 

Al Jazeera and agencies
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