Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russian Tycoon Khodorkovsky Sentenced Again, Supporters Cry Foul

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russian Tycoon Khodorkovsky Sentenced Again, Supporters Cry Foul

Article excerpt

Mikail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's wealthiest man, was sentenced anew for corruption in what his supporters claim was a politically motivated trial.

A Moscow judge on Monday handed down a second conviction for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the controversial former oil tycoon who is regarded as a political prisoner by his supporters, but who was recently slammed on TV by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a "thief."

The fresh guilty verdict for Mr. Khodorkovsky is being widely read as a dismal signal for hopes of political liberalization in Russia. Few doubt that Khodorkovsky, a well-connected businessman who conjured vast wealth from the ruins of the Soviet economy in the freewheeling 1990s, is probably guilty of wrongdoing. But even Kremlin supporters admit that he was probably singled out for prosecution because, unlike most other wealthy Russian "oligarchs," he remained politically defiant toward the Kremlin after Mr. Putin came to power a decade ago.

"Of course everyone believes that this is a political case, but nobody believes that Khodorkovsky is clean," says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst and Duma deputy. "When Khodorkovsky was first arrested seven years ago, the vast majority of Russians agreed that it was necessary to firmly separate economic power from politics. Khodorkovsky refused to give up his political ambitions, and maybe that's why he found himself in trouble with the law. But the law is not wrong about his guilt."

Khodorkovsky, and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev, have already spent seven years in a Siberian labor camp for fraud and tax evasion, and now face at least six more years on the current charges that they embezzled $27 billion from the Yukos oil company they once headed.

Scores of supporters demonstrated outside the Khamovniki Court on Monday - 12 were arrested by truncheon-wielding police - as the judge began reading aloud his decision to a closed courtroom. Khodorkovsky's wife, Inna, was ejected from the room by court officers early in the proceeding, allegedly for "talking."

Obvious outcome

The "reading of the verdict" typically takes a week or more in Russia, but the outcome is usually obvious in the first few minutes.

"The court has established that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have appropriated property using their staff positions," judge Victor Danilkin told the court. "Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and (other) members of their criminal group used the embezzled money according to their own will, mostly for their own enrichment," he said.

Khodorkovsky's supporters have consistently denied all charges against him, and point to what they call multiple irregularities in both trials to underscore their claim that his prosecution has been little more than a legal fig leaf to cover the Kremlin's urgent desire to eliminate a political challenger.

"We weren't expecting a positive verdict, because it was in no way a fair trial," says Karina Moskalenko, one of Khodorkovsky's defense attorneys. …

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