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Press review

December 31, 2010

Europe and the United States reacted with "concern" and "disappointment" to the six-year sentence handed down to former Russian mogul Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The German press reacted with equal pessimism.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky in cort
Khodorkovsky was once Russia's richest manImage: AP

A spotlight was shone on Russia this week with the sentencing on fraud charges of fallen oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the country's richest man. Europe and the United States have blasted the trial as politically motivated and a step backward for the rule of law.

Khodorkovsky, 47, was sentenced to six more years in prison, with a release date of 2017. German national daily newspaper Die Welt wrote that the Russian court responsible for hearing Khodorkovsky's case bent terribly in favor of Russian prosecutors:

"Judge Viktor Danilkin has followed the predetermined path to the very end. In the case of former oil mogul Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, he has followed to a tee the petitions of the public prosecutor's office, which had asked for six-year sentences for the pair. With a total incarceration of 14 years, including the time already served, the two men will not be freed until 2017. The court has stuck to public and direct statements on the matter of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin."

The Berliner Zeitung newspaper wrote of the single-mindedness of the Russian justice system:

"The process showed how Russian justice functions: the authorities are the ones who decide who the thief is … To position Khodorkovsky as a moral rolemodel in Russian consciousness will be difficult. Despite all sympathy afforded him due to his dealings with the repressive measures of the Russian justice system, the former oligarch will nevertheless remain for many Russians as a fraudster who was infinitely rich when many had hardly anything."

Khodorkovsky, left, and his co-defendant Lebedev in a prison cell
Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant Lebedev both received six more yearsImage: AP

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, wrote that President Dmitry Medvedev did not do enough to influence the trial, and that Putin was the eventual victor over his long-time crititc Khodorkovsky:

"President Dmitry Medvedev has not fulfilled expectations, some of which may have been misplaced. Though, the fact that the verdict was seemingly still up in the air until the end may have been down to the legal expert Medvedev. Whether or not he had the power to push for a milder sentence for Khodorkovsky, nothing changes the fact he has acted like an accomplice in revenge. This judicial ruling, which few in Russia hold to be independent, has worked according to the calculations of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin against one of his long-time foes."

The Nuernberger Nachrichten daily attempted to put Khodorkovsky's sentencing into a wider context of rights violations among some of Europe's key partners:

"The strongman of Russia has moved with full rigor against his critics. Critics of the Belarusian regime have also ended up in prison. Hungary, which soon takes over the rotating EU presidency, has from the New Year implemented a restrictive media law that reeks of democratic mockery. These are troubling times for fundamental human rights - particularly when the West reacts purely with words of little consequence, reluctant to exert pressure on important trading partners."

Author: Darren Mara (AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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