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US says Khodorkovsky charges raise 'serious questions' about Russia rule of law

[JURIST] Efforts by Russian prosecutors to bring new charges [MBK statement; JURIST report] against jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] raise "serious questions about the rule of law in Russia," US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said during a press briefing [transcript] Monday. Prosecutors charged the former Yukos CEO with money laundering and embezzlement Monday based on allegations that Khodorkovsky used his Open Russia Foundation [SourceWatch backgrounder] to funnel oil revenues away from Yukos. McCormack criticized prosecutors' actions as raising questions about the independence of Russia's judiciary, among other things, saying:

As we have commented in connection with the original trial, the continued prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the dismantlement of Yukos raise serious questions about the rule of law in Russia. Khodorkovsky and his associate, Platon Lebedev, would have been eligible to apply for parole this year, having served half of their terms. These new charges would likely preclude their early release. Many of the actions in the case against Khodorkovsky and Yukos have raised serious concerns about the independence of courts, sanctity of contracts and property rights, and the lack of a predictable tax regime. The conduct of Russian authorities in the Khodorkovsky Yukos affair has eroded Russia's reputation and confidence in Russian legal and judicial institutions. Such actions as this and other cases raise questions about Russia's commitment to the responsibilities which all democratic, free market economies countries embrace.
Khodorkovsky was convicted in May 2005 of tax evasion [JURIST report] and is currently serving an eight-year prison term, though he is eligible for parole later this year.

If convicted on the new money laundering charges, Khodorkovsky could face an additional 15 years in prison. MosNews has more.

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