Russia rejects trial criticism

Foreign ministry bristles at foreign criticism over second corruption conviction for oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

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

Russia has fired back at foreign criticisms over the second conviction of a jailed oil tycoon, saying that other governments should “mind their own business”.

On Tuesday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and other Western leaders criticised the guilty verdict handed to billionaire businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Monday. 

Clinton said the conviction raised “serious questions about selective prosecution and about the rule of
law being overshadowed by political considerations”.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that the ruling “makes
it difficult to liberate oneself from the suspicion that the verdict was steered by political dictate rather than by judicial balance”.

Germany called the ruling a step backward, while a statement from Canada said that “political
considerations should have no role in the judicial process”.

Russia’s foreign ministry bristled at the criticisms and singled out the United States in particular.

“We expect everyone to mind their own business – at home and in the international arena,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. 

The case against Khodorkovsky and his business partner involves “serious charges of tax evasion and money laundering” and “in the United States, by the way, people are given life sentences for such crimes”.

‘Politicised case’

On Monday, as police scuffled with demonstrators chanting “Freedom!” outside the Moscow courthouse where the trial has taken place, judge Vladimir Danilkin found the jailed tycoon and his business partner Platon Lebedev guilty of embezzling $27bn worth of oil.

Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from the capital, said that a lesser charge involving the theft of 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 , who has sponsored political rivals of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s former president and current prime minister, is already serving an eight-year sentence for tax evasion in a case his supporters say is politically motivated.

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

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.”

“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 before the verdict on Monday that he will appeal the decision.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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