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Russia panel finds no proof of undue pressure on Khodorkovsky judge

The Russian Investigative Committee [official website, in Russian] said Tuesday there is no evidence of undue pressure by superiors on the judge that sentenced former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive]. One of Khodorkovsky's main witnesses, Natalya Vasilyeva a former court aide, was called in for questioning [RIA Novosti report] Tuesday by the Committee at the request of Khodorkovsky's defense team. Vasilyeva brought with her documents [text, in Russian] which allegedly show Judge Viktor Danklin's original proposed ruling being crossed out and replaced with the ruling handed down by his superiors. After the questioning, the Committee found there was no evidence of abuse of process. The Committee said that Vasilyeva's claims were not supported by objective evidence [AP report]. Last February, Vasilyeva gave an interview to Gazeta.ru website [official website] alleging that Danilkin did not write the verdict and was coerced into reading it. Earlier this month, Khodorkovsky reissued his appeal for release on parole [JURIST report] after the first attempt was returned due to insufficient documentation. Khodorkovsky has served half of a 13-year sentence, reduced by a year [JURIST report] last month, for fraud, theft and money laundering, which under Russian law makes him eligible for parole.

According to Vasilyeva, Danilkin, a judge for the Khamovnichesky District Court [official website, in Russian], was pressured and coached by officials from the Moscow City Court. "When something happened, when something went wrong, he had a duty to provide information to the Moscow City Court and, accordingly, received certain instructions on how to behave," she said. At the end of the trial, Danilkin wrote a verdict, but Vasilyeva said it probably "did not satisfy the higher ups" and he was therefore given a different verdict, which he was ordered to issue. Danilkin responded to Vasilyeva's comments calling them slander [RFE/RL report]. In December, Danilkin sentenced [JURIST report] Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense website profile; JURIST news archive], to six additional years in prison, extending their imprisonment to a total of 14 years. Their defense counsel staunchly criticized the ruling, 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."

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