[JURIST] The Khamovnichesky District Court [official website, in Russian] in Moscow on Thursday sentenced former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense profile; JURIST news archive] and his business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense profile], to six additional years in prison, extending their imprisonment to a total of 14 years. The imposition of the maximum possible sentence has stoked international criticism [Deutsche Welle report] of what has been viewed by many as a politically-motivated abuse of the law [AI report] orchestrated by the men’s enemies in the Kremlin. U.S. State Department [official website] representative Mark Toner expressed continued concern [Reuters report] over apparent abuses of due process in Khodorkovsky’s trial, particularly in light of the severity of the verdict. Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomarev, head of the All Russia Movement for Human Rights [advocacy website, in Russian], called [press release, in Russian] the sentence “monstrous and farcical … shatter[ing] faith in judicial reform and the possibility of an evolutionary transition to the rule of law.” Critics have characterized the entire trial as politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] retaliation for Khodorkovsky’s opposition to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive].
Khodorkovsky, the former owner of Yukos oil, and Lebedev, were convicted [JURIST report] of embezzling more than $27 billion [AFP report] from the company. 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 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official biograpy], 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.” The men are currently serving eight-year prison sentences for fraud and tax evasion [JURIST report], to which they were sentenced in 2005 for the same money laundering from Yukos. 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 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].