Russia

Russian oil tycoon Khodorkovsky guilty of embezzlement

Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

Jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been found guilty of embezzlement in his second corruption trial. The judgement, which could keep the country’s former richest man behind bars until 2017, has been the most controversial legal action of the post-Soviet era.

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Khodorkovsky's supporters see him as a martyr punished for challenging Putin by financing opposition parties, but Russian officials view him as a corrupt tycoon.

Khodorkovsky and his co-accused Platon Lebedev had been charged with embezzling 218 million tonnes of oil from Khodorkovsky's Yukos oil giant between 1998 and 2003.

Defence lawyer Karina Moscalenko

They were also charged with laundering 487 billion rubles (16 billion dollars) and 7.5 billion dollars received from the embezzled oil.

The defence team maintains the charge is absurd, and that Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner. They will appeal the verdict.

One of the defending lawyers, Karina Moscalenko, told RFI there was disbelief as the verdict was read out.

“After the reading, the reaction of the courtroom was quite ironic. They were reacting like ‘who could expect anything else?' " Moscalenko said.

“The accused were listening without too much emotion, but two or three times they started to laugh because of the more absurd text of the judgement."

Only a handful of reporters were allowed into the courtroom for the verdict, and it was not clear when the sentence would be delivered.

The verdict was watched as a possible indicator of Russia's future direction under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, amid speculation that Putin is planning a return to the Kremlin in 2012 polls.

Russia specialist David Dyker

Khodorkovsky, 47, is already serving an eight-year sentence for fraud on charges his supporters insist were trumped up by the authorities.

But with his release scheduled for next year, Khodorkovsky was put on trial on additional charges.

Russia specialist and author David Dyker told RFI the guilty verdict comes as no surprise.

“The implications are obviously political. We can clearly see the hand of Putin here - this was not a proper trial,” Dyker said.

“What is interesting is that only a few months ago President Medvedev publicly deplored the state of the Russian courts, and said effectively that it was one of the worst aspects of Russian public life.

“Here we have a few months later a political verdict like this - and I think it tells you all you need to know about Russia and about the power relationship between Putin and Medvedev.

“Today is a very bad day for people who say that we have to have honest courts and we have got to keep the politics out of court.”

Putin has compared Khodorkovsky to US fraudster Bernard Madoff, jailed for 150 years, and observed that a "thief must be in prison".

Like many other billionaires, Khodorkovsky made his fortune in controversial loans-for-shares privatisation in the 1990s but his supporters say he turned Yukos into Russia's most transparent company.

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