Plea for end to Khodorkovsky ‘persecution’

Financial Times

A group of western politicians has urged Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president, to “end the persecution” of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed Yukos oil tycoon, just days before a Moscow judge begins reading the verdict in his second trial.

In an open letter, the politicians – led by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and David Miliband, two former UK foreign ministers, and Bernard Kouchner, the former French foreign minister – said the seven-year legal campaign against Mr Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev had “shaken confidence in the Russian legal system” because it was seen as “not truly motivated by law”.

“As strong supporters of the drive to modernise Russia we cannot stand idly by when rule of law and human values are being so openly abused and compromised,” the letter said. “Stable and reliable partnerships with Russia can exist only where our fundamental common values are shared and applied: where human rights are protected, property rights are secure and justice prevails over corruption.”

The strongly worded call came after last week’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident serving an 11-year jail sentence for subversion, prompting vitriolic criticism from the government in Beijing.

Until his arrest in 2003 on tax fraud charges, Mr Khodorkovsky was a rich oligarch who built up a vast business empire in the 1990s, rather than a political dissident. But his treatment has been seen as emblematic for the stifling of political opposition and the state takeover of the economy under Vladimir Putin’s leadership.

The judge will start delivering the verdict on Wednesday in Mr Khodorkovsky’s second trial, in which he and Mr Lebedev stood accused of stealing all the oil that their Yukos oil company produced between 1998 and 2003 and laundering the proceeds.

Sir Malcolm told the Financial Times that Mr Khodorkovsky had been in prison so long it was “hard to believe his continued imprisonment is the consequence of an independent legal proceeding” but instead was “the consequence of a political decision by the president or the prime minister” to keep him behind bars.

Mr Putin, the former president and now prime minister, has shown no sign of softening his stance on Mr Khodorkovsky, telling an investor conference in October that “corpses were hanging” on “people” in Yukos, once Russia’s biggest oil producer and now bankrupted and taken over by state-controlled Rosneft.

Critics said the charges, for which the two former business partners face a maximum potential sentence of 14 years in jail, are aimed at keeping Mr Khodorkovsky, once a political rival to Mr Putin, behind bars long beyond presidential elections in 2012. The legal campaign against Mr Khodorkovsky has been seen by observers as political revenge for the tycoon’s financing of opposition parties and lobbying to build private pipelines independently from the state.

The case is being closely watched as a test of whether Mr Medvedev is capable of making the court system independent and forging a separate path to Mr Putin, whose power as the theoretically more junior prime minister is still seen as eclipsing his.

The foreign political leaders, in their open letter to Mr Medvedev, said the fresh trial against Mr Khodorkovsky presented the president with an opportunity to “demonstrate that Russia is truly a regime of law today.”

William Hague, Britain’s foreign minister, did not mention Mr Khodorkovsky’s trial directly during a meeting with Mr Medvedev during his first visit to Moscow last month but raised concerns over the “culture of impunity and corruption” that mars Russia’s investment climate. hairy girl hairy girl https://zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/apply-for-payday-loan-online.php займы на карту

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