A senior Russian judge on Tuesday ordered a court to review the appeal of jailed former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive]. It remains to be seen whether the order is on a legal technicality or if there will be real progress in the appeal [Reuters report]. Once CEO of Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive] and one of the richest men in Russia, Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website; JURIST news archive] are each serving prison sentences for fraud, theft and money laundering, scheduled to run until 2016. Khodorkovsky has denied all the charges and maintains that he was falsely convicted as retribution for funding opposition parties during a former presidency of current President Vladimir Putin [BBC profile]. Yukos was split up and Russian state-controlled oil firm Rosneft eventually bought the largest production assets, making Rosneft the country's biggest oil producer.
Opposition leaders and other groups have shown skepticism about the validity of Khodorkovsky's sentence. In December the Russia Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights under President Dmitry Medvedev called for the prosecutor general to petition to annul the conviction [JURIST report]. Describing the verdict as fictitious, council member and former Constitutional Court judge, Tamara Morshchakova, noted the council found neither evidence nor substance to the charges brought against Khodorkovsky in the second trial. The council's decisions are non-binding and have seldom elicited action from Russian authorities. In July, the council urged amnesty for economic crimes in a meeting with Medvedev that would include amnesty for the crimes of Khodorkovsky. Last year former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov testified [JURIST report] that former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party without first getting approval to do so from the president.