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Talking back

December 28, 2010

Russia has angrily rejected Western criticism of the conviction of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Moscow said claims of selective justice were "unacceptable."

The Kremlin
The Kremlin has been indignant in response to Western criticismImage: AP

Russia has reacted to criticism over Monday's new guilty verdict against the jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky by telling the European Union and the United States to stay out of its affairs.

"We expect everyone to mind his own business, both at home and in the international arena," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Attempts to put pressure on the proceedings are unacceptable," the ministry said, using unusually blunt language for a diplomatic statement.

Khodorkovsky was convicted on Monday of stealing oil from his former company, Yukos, between 1999 and 2003 and laundering the proceeds.

The conviction drew international criticism, with the United States saying it was "deeply concerned" about the "selective application of justice."

Germany said the verdict was a step backwards for Russia, while France called for the rule of law to be respected.

Khodorkovsky vs Putin

Putin and Khodorkovsky are seen as personal rivalsImage: AP

Critics and human rights activists regard the trial as having been politically motivated. They say the aim is to sideline Khodorkovsky because he financed opposition parties. Once the richest man in Russia, he was convicted of fraud in 2003 and sentenced to prison. His jail term was due to expire in 2011.

Khodorkovsky is an outspoken opponent of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was the country's president when Khodorkovsky was initially convicted.

The new prison sentence could put him behind bars beyond the 2012 presidential elections. If the court follows the prosecutors' calls, he could stay in jail until 2017.

Vladimir Putin is widely expected to run again for the presidency in 2012. He served two terms in that office, from 2000 to 2008. The constitution barred him from serving a third, consecutive term. However, from 2012 Putin could again serve as president for another two terms.

Full verdict expected by Friday

The reading of the full verdict is ongoing and expected to be completed by the end of the week, at the earliest.

Yukos logo
As Yukos chief, Khodorkovsky was the richest man in RussiaImage: AP

Khodorkovsky's defense team suggested the verdict would be pronounced on Friday. As the first 10 days of January are vacation days in Russia, no newspapers will be published that could question the court's impartiality.

In a statement released on Khodorkovsky's website, he and his co-defendant, Platon Lebedev, thanked their supporters for protesting outside the court building.

"Power without law is a stool without a leg. It looks silly and its prospects are predictable," the statement said.

Author: Andreas Illmer (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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