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Moscow court aide says judge pressured over Khodorkovsky verdict

The judge who issued a guilty verdict to former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky over oil theft and money laundering charges was pressured from above, a former aide to the judge said Monday.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Khodorkovsky was a known Kremlin critic

A former senior assistant to the Moscow judge who recently found Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty of oil theft and money laundering says the verdict against the oil tycoon was pre-formulated and ordered from above.

Natalya Vasilyeva, who had worked as an aide to Judge Viktor Danilkin, said her former superior received instructions by telephone from higher Moscow court officials during Khodorkovsky's trial at Khamovniki district court.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was eventually sentenced to 13.5 years by Danilkin in December of last year. His lawyers commented after the trial that the judge's conclusions were nearly identical to the demands of the prosecution.

Vasilyeva, who is also a spokeswoman for the Khamovniki district court, told liberal website gazeta.ru that the verdict was imposed upon the judge when it became clear that top Russian officials did not think his own ruling would be tough enough.

"Danilkin started to write the verdict. I suspect that what was in that verdict did not please the higher instance. And so he received a different verdict, which he had to read out," Vasilyeva said.

Moscow judge Victor Danilkin

Vasilyeva says Judge Danilkin was pressured from above

She said that "when something was happening not the way it was supposed to [Danilkin] had to give information to the Moscow City court and received certain instructions from there about how to behave."

"What judge Danilkin was doing was more of a forced action. By law a judge is not required to seek advice or listen to anyone's opinion," she said, adding that interfering in the legal process is not allowed for anyone.

Sharp rebuke

The Moscow court labeled Vasilyeva's comments as a "provocation," while Judge Danilkin rejected them as "slanderous."

Khodorkovsky is not due to be released from prison until 2017. He had already been serving an eight-year sentence for tax evasion prior to his second conviction.

The sentence was angrily condemned in the West. Khodorkovsky's supporters maintained he was punished for daring to continue to oppose Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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