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 Khordorkovsky and Lebedev guilty of stealing the full 350 million tonnes of oil. This is some 132 million tonnes more than even the prosecution thought plausible.
So what can be done now? One option is to appeal the case to the European Court of Human Rights. After all, in January last year Russia became a signatory of Protocol 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This gives those accused or convicted of crimes in Russia the right to appeal the case to a foreign authority.
Since Russia signed the convention, there is also the intriguing possibility that the Committee of Ministers could legally bring Russian representatives before the Court of Human Rights for non-compliance with the court’s judgements. With Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation due to be completed this year the government will be keen to avoid an international scandal.
Far too often the international outcry against these cases runs out of steam when people feel there are no further avenues to pursue. An appeal could have the dual benefit of exposing the evidence against Khodorkovsky to greater scrutiny and helping to bring the case into international jurisdiction.
Whatever your views on Khodorkovsky—and there are a great number of Russians who strongly disagree with attempts to characterise him as a civil rights martyr—he undoubtedly deserves a fair trial. Vladimir Putin may be right to suggest that thieves should be jailed, but that does not mean…