A Russian court on Wednesday reduced the sentence of the former business partner of jailed Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive]. Platon Lebedev [defense website; JURIST news archive] has been incarcerated since 2003 for various charges associated with his business partnership with Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are each serving prison sentences for fraud, theft and money laundering, scheduled to run until 2016. Lebedev's 13-year prison sentence was reduced [AP report] Wednesday, moving his scheduled release date to March 2013. Khodorkovsky's sentence will remain intact until an appeal is heard in his case. A senior Russian judge last month ordered a court to review [JURIST report] Khodorkovsky's appeal. 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]. His former oil company, Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive], 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.