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Russian billionaire Khodorkovsky found guilty in fraud trial

The judge in the fraud trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky has found the jailed Russian oil tycoon guilty of embezzlement. The verdict in Khodorkovsky's second trial could keep him behind bars for several more years.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky behind bars

Khodorkovsky may remain behind bars for several more years

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been found guilty of embezzlement for stealing and reselling over 200 tons of oil from wells he previously owned as head of the Yukos oil company.

The judge in the case, Viktor Danilkin, read the verdict in a Moscow courtroom on Monday. Khodorkovsky's business partner and co-defendant Platon Lebedev was also found guilty.

Khodorkovsky supporters hold his picture outside the courtroom

Khodorkovsky supporters gathered outside the court Monday

Khodorkovsky is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence for tax evasion. Sentencing in the current case is expected in the next few days. The prosecution is seeking a six-year sentence.

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that journalists present in the courtroom were asked to leave by Danilkin just after the guilty decision was read. The entire verdict could take several days to read.

Observers have speculated that a date change in the verdict reading, originally scheduled for December 15, was an attempt to reduce media attention.

Shortly after the verdict was read, Khodorkovsky's defense lawyers said they would appeal the decision. Khodorkovsky had previously said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if he was found guilty.

High-profile trial

The second trial of Russia's former richest man has garnered international attention. Germany is one of several Western nations that have criticized the trial.

In a visit with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in early November, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed "very serious concern about the conditions of the trial proceedings."

Westerwelle added it was in Russia's best interest to take such concerns seriously. Lavrov replied that it was a matter for the court to decide.

Political rivals

If Khodorkovsky remains behind bars through 2012, it would keep the outspoken political opponent of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from wielding his influence ahead of the election.

Due to his stance against Putin and the Kremlin, Khodorkovsky has become a symbol for the Russian opposition and human right activists who decry his imprisonment.

Vladimir Putin

Putin called for a guilty verdict last week

Khodorkovsky's original trial in 2003 was widely seen as a politically motivated event, with Putin - who was president at the time - pulling the strings.

Khodorkovsky had openly funded opposition parties ahead of the 2003 parliamentary elections, which did not sit well with the Kremlin.

Putin was in the spotlight again leading up to Monday's verdict, making an appeal on live television last week that "the thief must remain in jail."

The verdict and sentencing in the current case are being seen as a test of the independence of the Russian justice system.

Author: Matt Zuvela (AFP, AP, dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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