Russian tycoon gets additional six years in jail

Friday, December 31, 2010

MOSCOW - Jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky has been sentenced to an additional six years in prison for what appears to be his continued opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.

He has been accused of tax fraud and stealing 27 billion dollars in oil from his own conglomerate through accounting schemes that prosecutors said were missed by auditors.

His lawyers have called the new charges absurd.

Khodorkovsky was imprisoned in 2003 after defying Putin. His sentencing for an additional six years on Thursday, almost certainly certifies that Putin remains in tight control of the country in advance of presidential elections in 2012, which he might decide to enter.

Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008, has repeatedly declared that Khodorkovsky, 47, is nothing more than a violent criminal who has richly deserved his confinement in a Siberian prison camp.

On the other hand, Khodorkovsky’s lawyers maintain that the charges against their client are fabricated, and that he is actually being punished for posing a challenge to Putin’s political power.

On Thursday afternoon, according to the New York Times, Khodorkovsky smiled wanly from behind a glass enclosure as Judge Viktor Danilkin, handed down the sentence, according to a video feed from the proceedings in Moscow.

His mother, Marina, who was in the courtroom, shouted at the judge, “Damn you and your descendants!”

The judge, who had earlier this week found Khodorkovsky guilty of embezzling billions of dollars of oil from his own conglomerate, said Khodorkovsky could be reformed only through “isolation from society.”

Khodorkovsky is already serving an eight-year sentence on an earlier conviction that ends in 2011, right before the next presidential election.

The judge made clear that he agreed with prosecutors that Khodorkovsky deserved the maximum penalty of 14 years. The new term will be dated from his arrest in 2003, which means that he would be released in 2017.

Neither Putin nor President Dmitry Medvedev offered any immediate reaction to the sentencing, and it appeared that the Kremlin was determined not to draw attention to the case.
The main news program on the state-controlled television channel on Thursday night featured a ceremony at the Kremlin where Mr. Medvedev handed out state honors. Only well into the program was Khodorkovsky’s sentencing mentioned.

Foreign governments, though, quickly issued statements critical of the decision, saying the case undermines confidence in Russia’s judicial system and sends a strong warning to potential foreign investors.

“The impression remains that political motives played a role in this process,” said the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is one of the Kremlin’s strongest allies in the West.

She added: “This contradicts Russia’s repeatedly expressed intention to follow the path to a full rule of law.”

Political experts said Khodorkovsky’s fate has been intertwined with jockeying before the next presidential election in 2012.

They said Putin did not want Khodorkovsky released before then, and also wanted to ensure that other wealthy businessmen understood that they should not try to interfere in politics.

Khodorkovsky earned his fortune in the 1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when a generation of entrepreneurs scooped up government assets at a fraction of their worth.

Even his supporters acknowledge that he may have committed some white collar crimes back then, but they insist that he was no different than scores of other so-called oligarchs during a chaotic era.

The supporters said that he was prosecuted solely because he became politically active, financing opposition parties, in the early part of this decade and rebuffed warnings from Putin and his associates to avoid challenging the Kremlin. (ANI)

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