Germans Criticize Khordorkovsky Verdict | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 31.05.2005
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Germans Criticize Khordorkovsky Verdict

German politicians on Tuesday condemned the jailing of Yukos oil founder Mikhail Khordorkovsky, who was convicted of fraud and tax evasion by a Russian court. The European Union declined to comment on the matter.

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 9 years behind bars

Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison after a politically-charged trial that critics saw as a Kremlin vendetta against Russia's once-richest man. The co-leader of Germany's Greens party, Claudia Roth, said the verdict was the result of a "show trial" that was unfair from the outset.

"The loser of this trial isn't only Mikhail Khordorkovsky, but also the rule of law and democracy in Russia," Roth said in a statement. "It shows just how controlled and unfree the Russian justice system is."

Similar sentiment was expressed by the Secretary General of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union, Markus Söder, who also criticized the outcome as "having little to do with democracy."

US congressman Tom Lantos, in Moscow for the verdict, went even further: "It seems that this political trial, tried before this kangaroo court, has come to a shameful conclusion," Representative Lantos told journalists outside the courthouse shortly after judges sentenced Khodorkovsky.

No comment from EU

The European Union chose not to comment directly on the verdict, but said it would continue to urge Russia to develop a favorable climate for investors. "We will not comment on the details of the charges nor on the sentence in this case," Emma Udwin, spokeswoman for external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told reporters in Brussels.

"We have other opportunities and use them to explain to our Russian partners that it would be in their interest to create a climate for investors and business more generally that is transparent and non discriminatory," she said.

Anton Börner, the president of the German Trade Association (BGA), said he didn't expect any impact on German companies doing business with Russia due to the verdict. "Russia is in the middle of a serious reform process that also affects the justice system," he said. "The strong growth of the Russian market more than offset some uncertainty."

Roth from the Greens said German companies should express criticism over the trial and not remain silent in the hopes of improving their dealings with Russia.

Harsh sentence

Michail Chodorkowski Prozess in Moskau Platon Lebedjew

Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, left, and his co-defendant and business partner Platon Lebedev stand behind bars during their trial in Moscow, Tuesday, May 17, 2005. The Moscow court reading the verdict in the politically charged trial of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky adjourned Tuesday without pronouncing a final decision, postponing the laborious process into a third day. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The sentence was one year short of the maximum 10 years requested by prosecutors and was in line with wide expectation that Khodorkovsky would be convicted. Co-defendant Platon Lebedev, one of Khodorkovsky's former business associates, was also found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Chief Justice Irina Kolesnikova said the decision by a three-judge panel could be appealed to a higher judicial authority within 10 days.

The Russian state prosecutor's office described the verdict and sentencing as "fair and objective."

"It corresponds to the real circumstances of the affair and to the seriousness of the crimes committed by the accused," Natalya Vishnyakova, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor general's office, said in a statement reported by Interfax news agency.

Another spokesman for the prosecutor general's office confirmed that the state would "soon" file new charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev in connection with a separate money-laundering investigation.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were expected to remain in detention in Moscow pending an expected appeals process which could drag on for months or even years. Defense lawyers have indicated they will appeal the verdict not just through Russian judicial channels but possibly at the European Court of Human Rights and through an international campaign of pressure against President Vladimir Putin's government.

Irina Khakamada, a leading Putin critic, described the sentence as "aggressive and unjust."

"This verdict will allow not only the redistribution of assets to the benefit of the authorities but also the intimidation of everyone," the liberal opposition lawmaker said on Echo Moscow radio station.

Yukos downfall

Jukos Logo in Moskau

The logo of the Russian oil giant Yukos above a gas station.

The sentence handed down to the former Yukos boss was to begin backdated to October 2003, when he was arrested in Siberia as he was about to board his private plane. The trial, which began in June last year, has sparked widespread international criticism and shaken the confidence of international investors.

The authorities described Khodorkovsky, 41, as a robber baron who bought Yukos on the cheap during the murky and unregulated privatization process of the early 1990s. At the time of his arrest, he was believed to be Russia's richest man, worth an estimated $15 billion (12.2 billion

euros) according to Fortune magazine.

Supporters said Khodorkovsky is no worse than the other

so-called "oligarchs," the less than two dozen men who rose to the top of Russia's chaotic and freewheeling post-Soviet move towards privatization.

Defenders underlined that under Khodorkovsky, Yukos became known in the West as Russia's most transparent and well-run company.

Many analysts and human rights defenders said his real mistake was to become actively involved in politics, funding opposition parties and, with his wealth and influence abroad, posing a threat to Putin's iron grip on power.

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