Oil tycoon Khodorkovsky guilty verdict attacked by US

  • Published

The US and Germany have voiced serious concerns about a second guilty verdict against the jailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and considered a political threat to PM Vladimir Putin, was convicted at a new Moscow trial of embezzlement.

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

German FM Guido Westerwelle said the trial was "a step back".

The judge said Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were guilty of stealing from their firm Yukos and laundering the proceeds.

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

Image caption,
About 200 people gathered outside the court in support of Khodorkovsky

Khodorkovsky's lawyers say the verdict was the result of official pressure, and have promised to appeal.

However, the chairman of the Russian lower house of parliament's Foreign Affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, dismissed these concerns.

"I understand perfectly well that this is a very spectacular case and many questions may arise. But I have to respect the decision by the court, as a loyal citizen of Russia," he said.

Several hundred demonstrators could be heard outside the courtroom during the session, chanting "Freedom!" and "Put Putin in jail!" Police made a number of arrests.

Khodorkovsky is currently serving an eight-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion from his 2005 trial.

'Extremely dubious'

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a communique that the White House was troubled by "what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends".

"We are deeply concerned that a Russian judge today has indicated that for a second time Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev will be convicted," he said.

"The apparent selective application of the law to these individuals undermines Russia's reputation as a country committed to deepening the rule of law."

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said 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."

However, the European Union stopped short of criticising the verdict, saying it would be following events closely, including the announcement of the sentence.

A statement by the UK Foreign Office said it would stress to Russia how the law should be applied in a "non-discriminatory and proportional way".

'Sick state'

In the latest trial, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are accused of stealing hundreds of millions of tonnes of oil from the now defunct Yukos oil company, and laundering the proceeds, between 1998 and 2003.

Khodorkovsky has denounced the charges as rubbish.

He has said that a state that destroys its best companies and trusts only the bureaucracy and the special services is a sick state.

Many critics believe the government wants the former tycoon kept behind bars for as long as possible because he financed the opposition when Vladimir Putin was president.

Mr Putin - now Russia's prime minister - referred to Khodorkovsky in a televised question-and-answer session last week, when he said he believed "a thief belongs in prison".

One of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, Vadim Klyuvgant, has criticised what he described as "an unjust verdict by a court that is not free", describing it as "shameful for the country".

"If the court were free and independent in issuing its verdict, it would have issued an acquittal. What we heard here confirms that the court has faced pressure," he told reporters.