Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Khodorkovsky trial: Russia hits back at West

28 December 2010

Russia has accused Western nations of exerting "unacceptable" pressure over the trial of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Russia's foreign ministry was reacting to criticism by the US and Germany on Monday after a second guilty verdict was delivered against Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, once seen as a threat to former President Vladimir Putin, was convicted of embezzlement.

He was first jailed in 2005, for fraud and tax evasion.

Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev were back in court on Tuesday as the judge continued reading out his verdict.

It is unclear when their sentences will be pronounced.

"Attempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

"We expect everyone to mind his own business, both at home and in the international arena."
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image of Paul Reynolds Paul Reynolds World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The Khodorkovsky case has become an irritant in relations between Russia and Western countries even though it has not derailed progress on other fronts such as co-operation on sanctions against Iran and transit for Nato forces into Afghanistan and the agreement on nuclear weapons in the new Start treaty.

Western governments have to be careful not to criticise the principle of anti-corruption moves in Moscow so those critical of Russia have concentrated on what they claim is the selective nature of prosecutions. These have been targeted, they say, at political opponents of the Russian government.

This case is also seen in the West as part of Moscow's failure to develop a proper rule of law. The Russians, however, have had little difficulty in painting Khodorkovsky as a thief and oligarch and so reject what they regard as interference, saying that this reflects badly on those who defend him.

Assertions that justice was being applied selectively in Russia were, the statement said, "groundless".

The judge found Khodorkovsky and Lebedev guilty of stealing from their own firm, Yukos, and laundering the proceeds.

Delivering the full verdict and sentence is expected to take several days.

The White House said it was "deeply concerned" about the verdict, calling it a "selective application" of justice.

Germany said the trial was "a step back".

Khodorkovsky, in custody since 2003, was less than a year from completing his first prison sentence for fraud when he and Lebedev were convicted on Monday.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers dismissed the charges as an absurd pretext to keep the two men behind bars.

One of them, Vadim Klyuvgant, condemned "an unjust verdict by a court that is not free", saying it was "shameful for the country".
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“Start Quote

It is not a bad thing that Khodorkovsky is in jail. But it is a bad thing that others like him are not in jail”

End Quote Sergei M, St Petersburg

* Views from Russia

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the trial had raised "serious questions" about the rule of law in Russia and the verdict would have a "negative impact on Russia's reputation".

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was "very worried" by the conviction.

"The way the trial has been conducted is extremely dubious and a step backward on the road toward a modernisation of the country," he said in a statement.

"It is in the interest of our Russian partners to take these concerns seriously and to stand up for the rule of law, democracy and human rights."

Richard Ottaway, chairman of the UK parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the "due process of law that we in the UK would recognise" had not been followed.


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