[JURIST] International human rights organizations and numerous governments criticized Russia’s justice system following Monday’s guilty verdict [JURIST report] against Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense profile] on embezzlement charges. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged Russian courts to overturn the verdict [press release], claiming the trial was unfair and appeared politically motivated. AI claimed that prosecutors failed to provide due process for Khodorkovsky by refusing to allow Khodorkovsky to cross-examine witnesses, harassing and pressuring former colleagues to testify against Khodorkovsky and failing to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense team. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] also criticized the process [press release], saying that Monday’s verdict “raises serious questions about selective prosecution — and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations. This and similar cases have a negative impact on Russia’s reputation for fulfilling its international human rights obligations and improving its investment climate.” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle [official profile] also criticized the verdict, stating [press release]:
I am greatly concerned that Mikhail Khordorkovsky and Platon Lebedev have once again been found guilty. The circumstances of the trial were most unsatisfactory and a setback for the modernization to which the country aspires. It is in the interest of our Russian partners to take these concerns seriously and firmly uphold the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
A spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] rebuffed criticism from foreign governments [press release, in Russian; RIA Novosti report], declaring “[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable.” Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are currently serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted on fraud and tax evasion charges [JURIST report] in 2005 stemming from attempts to embezzle valuable assets from Yukos. Prosecutors are seeking a six-year prison term for Khodorkovsky, but a sentence will not be handed down [Moscow Times report] until Judge Viktor Danilkin finishes reading the 250-page verdict.
The trial has not proceeded without considerable political conflict. In May, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] 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. 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 Putin. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized Russia’s 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].