What next for Khodorkovsky?

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What next for Khodorkovsky?

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His trial has exposed the almost comic absurdities of Russia's legal system. But what should Khodorkovsky do now he has been found guilty?

Russia’s legal system is in a bad way. If you need evidence, look no further than the case of the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, accused of stealing 350 million tonnes of oil while head of Russia’s largest oil company. In December a Moscow court found Khordorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, the co-defendant, guilty and sentenced the two men to 14 years in prison.

During the trial evidence emerged to demonstrate the impossibility of the defendants having committed the crimes of which they were accused. So compelling was the case for the defence that the prosecution was forced to reduce its claim from 350 million to 218 million tonnes, citing lack of evidence and arithmetical error.

However, in a bizarre Gogolesque twist, the judge overrode the prosecution and found

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  1. January 7, 2011

    Jeremy Putley

    Allegations of theft, embezzlement and money laundering made by the prosecution in the trial were never properly substantiated. What the judgment indicated, among other things, was that the court failed to recognise the realities of transfer pricing mechanisms. And the vast amounts of tax paid by Yukos, during all the years when the company’s oil production was supposedly stolen in its entirety, clearly show the prosecution case to have had no merit. The case mounted by the prosecution was brought with an ulterior motive.

    Some have argued that motive was to ensure that Mr Khodorkovsky will remain in prison until after the next presidential election. There is though a further ulterior motive which should seriously be considered, having to do with the fears of those who are now in positions of the highest authority in Russia that, if elections were free and fair, those individuals could one day find themselves in court facing charges of corrupt self-enrichment. And those charges, unlike the charges faced by Khodorkovsky, would have real merit.

    “A thief should sit in jail” said Putin. I look forward to seeing the Russian prime minister facing his own trial. May it be soon.

  2. January 7, 2011

    Michael Tomlinson

    Putin is quite right that thieves should be jailed, so long as ALL thieves are jailed. The legal authorities should pursue anyone who made irregular profits from the end of communism, regardless of the positions of power they may have ended up in. If the law is used selectively against opponents of a government and never agaginst anyone in government, then this does not qualify as the rule of law. Justice is blind.

  3. January 7, 2011

    Tomas Hirst

    @Michael Tomlinson

    I absolutely agree. The case wasn’t about oil theft but about the rule of law in Russia, which means much more than simply punishing transgressors.

    Much of the coverage has focused on the international implications of the verdict but the true cost is to Russians. What’s at stake isn’t a loss of foreign investment and the international political fallout, but the erosion of freedoms that would allow for Russia to grow organically.

    Without a strong independent judiciary the abuses of the 1990s which allowed the oligarchs to amass extraordinary wealth will simply be allowed to repeat.

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