Lawyers for jailed former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense profile; JURIST news archive] and his business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense profile], filed an appeal Friday challenging their six-year extended sentences for embezzlement and fraud. Unless the appeal succeeds, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are expected to remain imprisoned through 2017 after being convicted and sentenced [JURIST report] last week in the Khamovinchesky District Court [olfficial website, in Russian] on charges connected with his embezzlement of more than $27 billion [AFP report] from Yukos oil. Before their conviction last week, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were already serving eight-year prison sentences for fraud and tax evasion [JURIST report].
Defense counsel have staunchly criticized last week's verdict, claiming [press release] that the court blocked significant amounts of testimony and evidence submitted by the defense and systematically quashed objections to their omission. The verdict drew vehement international criticism [JURIST report], including from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], who said [press release] that the ruling "raises serious questions about selective prosecution." The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] dismissed critics, saying [press release, in Russian] that "[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable." In May, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized the Russian justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. The statement echoed concerns Khodorkovsky had previously expressed about the fairness of Russian trials and the need for widespread reform of the Russian court system [JURIST reports].