During the trial of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the
judge's original decision 'didn't suit higher ups, so he received a
different verdict which he had to deliver,' a court assistant told
Russia's judge who sentenced former oil tycoon Mikhail
Khodorkovsky in December to an additional six years in a Siberian
penal colony took orders from "higher ups" who disagreed with the
ruling he planned to deliver, the judge's court assistant has
publicly alleged, saying her boss agreed under pressure to deliver a
The remarks by Natalya Vasilyeva, who was aide and spokesperson
for Judge Viktor Danilkin during the controversial 20-month second
trial of Mr. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev,
have ignited a firestorm of discussion around what may be Russia's
most sensitive political issue.
Judge Danilkin today called the allegations "slanderous" and
promised legal action against Ms. Vasilyeva. But supporters of
Khodorkovsky say the remarks are another compelling piece of
evidence for their contention that the Kremlin stage-managed his
trial to throw a veil of legality over what they say is outright
"If anyone else [besides Judge Danilkin] participated in writing
the verdict, then the verdict itself is illegal," says
Khodorkovsky's defense attorney, Yury Schmidt, adding that the
allegations will give new impetus to the appeal and could result in
criminal charges against Danilkin.
Even Kremlin officials have worried out loud about the negative
impact on Russia's international investment prospects created by the
widespread perception that in Khodorkovsky's case Russian law was
subordinated to Kremlin dictate. Vasilyeva's testimony is bound to
deepen concerns about the reliability of Russian justice.
Trial orchestrated by 'higher ups'
When Vladimir Putin came to power more than a decade ago,
Khodorkovsky was one of very few Russian "oligarchs" to refuse to
drop all political support for opposition parties.
An initial 2005 trial sentenced him to nine years in a Siberian
penal colony on charges of graft, tax evasion, and fraud as part of
a Kremlin campaign against the super-rich oligarchs. A lengthy 2007
US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in December summarized the
evidence that Khodorkovsky was being hounded by the Kremlin for
political reasons and concluded that he would never be freed from
prison as long as Mr. Putin remained in power.
Khodorkovsky's second trial was orchestrated from above and
"higher ups" didn't like Danilkin's original verdict, so it was
scrapped and replaced with a new one that he was forced to read
aloud in court, Vasilyeva said in an interview published Monday (in
Russian) in the independent online newspaper Gazeta. …