[JURIST] The Khamovnichesky District Court [official website, in Russian] in Moscow found former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense profile; JURIST news archive] and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense profile] guilty of embezzlement Monday. Khodorkovsky, the former owner of Yukos oil, and Lebedev were charged and convicted of embezzling 218 million tons of oil from Yukos between 1998 and 2003 and laundering over $27 billion [AFP report] in proceeds. Defense counsel pointed out inconsistent facts found at trial and criticized the ruling in a statement [text]:
[T]he judge blocked [defense] lawyers from introducing exculpatory documentary evidence and refused to hear many witnesses and experts. An illusion of adversarial nature and legitimacy was created by allowing the defense to file motions and objections to serious procedural violations, however [they were] routinely quashed. … [T]he court … openly ignore[d] applicable procedural and substantive laws as well as basic notions of fairness. This is testament to the power of those corrupt officials who zealously seek to justify their seizure, control and ownership of Yukos assets and to isolate Khodorkovsky and Lebedev from Russia’s business and public spheres – and to keep them in jail as long as possible to achieve these goals.
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].