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Schröder Implicated in Kremlin Intrigue

After former YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovsky made his final statement in court Monday, his lawyers accused Gerhard Schröder of complicity in the Kremlin's bid to eliminate dangerously independent tycoons.

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Khodorkovsky has described the charges as 'pulp fiction'

A day after Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky pleaded innocent to charges of fraud and tax evasion, his lawyers declared at a press conference Tuesday that his trial was being used to political ends and the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

"In a political case you have political actions," said Robert Amsterdam, from Khodorkovsky's defense team.

Ulterior motives

The case is widely seen as Moscow's ploy to crush one of its most powerful opponents -- Khodorkovsky, founder of oil company YUKOS. Once believed to be Russia's richest man, he is one of the Russian oligarchs who amassed vast fortunes in the turbulent 1990s.

Human rights groups argue that Russia has subverted the rule of law in its determination to defeat him.

One particular target of his lawyers' wrath was Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose close friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has prompted many to question the integrity of Berlin's policies towards Russia -- including its habit of turning a blind eye to breaches of human rights and press freedoms.

Serious accusations

Robert Amsterdam Anwalt von Michail Chodorkowski in Moskau

Robert Amsterdam

"There are no words to describe my disappointment about Chancellor Schröder's behaviour," said Robert Amsterdam (photo). He couldn't understand the German leader's willingness to whitewash the Russian government, he added, when the rest of the world considered the trial to be a farce.

In a recent visit to Moscow, Schröder had insisted the trial was constitutional. On another occasion, he described Putin as a "flawless democrat," while in Hanover this week, he pushed through a series of major business deals with Russia.

Amsterdam argued that the number of procedural errors made should have meant the case was dropped -- even according to Russian law. Prosecutors confiscated evidence from the defense that they then used in the case. The lawyer accused the western world of ignoring these details, and singled out Schröder as one of the Kremlin's staunchest allies.

Deutschland Russland Hannover Messe

Gerhard Schröder and Vladimir Putin in Hanover

Amsterdam announced he planned to visit Berlin to speak with members of the Bundestag and said he hoped there would be an investigation into the case. "The Chancellor is supporting an illegal trial," he said, stressing that Schröder's motivation was economic.

Prosecutors in the case are asking for the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail for billionaire Khodorkovsky. The judge is expected to announce the verdict on April 27.

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