[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Thursday heard an unlawful prosecution case [press release] brought by bankrupt oil company Yukos [JURIST news archive] against the Russian government for allegedly illegally prosecuting the company for tax violations. Representatives of Yukos said they brought the case in the ECHR because they believed that would not recieve a fair hearing in a Russian court. They are seeking USD $98 billion in damages [AP report], the value of a subsidiary that a Russian court ordered Yukos to sell to in order to pay the liabilities. Yukos filed the claim [text] with the ECHR in August 2004, alleging that tax assessments between 2002-03 "had been arbitrary, unlawful and disproportionate" and that the assessments "had not been based on any reasonable and foreseeable interpretation of the domestic law."
On Wednesday, Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive], criticized [JURIST report] the Russian justice system as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. Both he and former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are serving time on tax evasion and fraud charges, but Lebedev successfully challenged [JURIST report] the legality of his arrest and was awarded USD $14,300 in damages and legal fees by the EHCR. The two are currently on trial on additional related charges of money laundering and embezzlement, to which they have pleaded not guilty [JURIST reports]. Some critics of the Russian government have argued that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] due to Khodorkovsky's opposition to former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive].