Khodorkovsky in final plea to court

Former oil magnate tells Moscow court he is ready to die in jail for his beliefs as he awaits verdict on theft charges.

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky, right, is already serving an eight-year jail term for fraud [AFP]

    A former Russian oil magnate jailed for fraud and embezzlement has told a court that he does not want to die in prison but also doubts he will be acquitted as his trial draws to a close.

    In his final submission at his trial in Moscow's Khamovnichesky district court, Mikhail Khodorkovsky said on Tuesday that "while there is always hope, no one believes we will be acquitted".

    Prosecutors have asked for a sentence of 14 years for Khodorkovsky, and his business partner Platon Lebedev, on charges of stealing millions of tons of oil.

    Khodorkovsky is already serving an eight-year sentence for fraud.

    "Millions of people are watching this case hoping that the rule of law will triumph in the country. I don't want to die in prison, but my belief is worth my life," Khodorkovsky said.

    Khodorkovsky, who headed the defunct oil giant Yukos, was speaking after Viktor Danilkin, the trial judge, announced that he would begin announcing his verdict on December 15.

    It is expected that it will take several days to announce the full decision.

    Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from Moscow, said: "Today was a chance; the final chance for  Mikhail Khodorkovsky to address the court, and he told the judge that the entire fate of Russia and the future of its judicial system very much rested on this important verdict".

    Khodorkovsky is "already somewhat pessimistic about that result," said Barker. 

    "He seems to have very much resigned himself to the fact that he may well be spending his old age behind bars."

    But Khodorkovsky has asked the Moscow court to acquit him on all the fresh charges, which he has described as absurd.

    'Not broken'

    Khodorkovsky, 47, was Russia's richest man before his initial arrest in 2003, with his oil empire estimated to have been worth around $15bn.

    Clad in a dark shirt and jacket, Khodorkovsky ended his speech with the line: "The fate of each and every Russian citizen is being decided here and now."

    As he finished speaking, members of the public in the courtroom applauded, including his elderly parents and Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister, who spoke as a defence witness earlier this year.

    Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a veteran human rights activist, praised the speech, saying it showed Khodorkovsky's spirit had not been broken by his long period behind bars.

    "They have not broken him," she told the Interfax news agency.

    "As a result of the trials which have afflicted him, he has even grown spiritually and however strange it sounds, become richer as a person."

    On Monday, Valery Lakhtin, a prosecutor, accused the defence team of telling lies and of manipulating media under Khodorkovsky's control to create the impression that the trial was politically motivated.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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