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Khodorkovsky sentenced to 13.5 years

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been sentenced to a 13.5-year jail term for embezzlement and tax evasion. This means he will spend six more years behind bars, as the term will be regarded as served concurrently with his existing eight-year sentence.

 The former head of the Yukos oil company and business partner Platon Lebedev received the same term and will also have the time he has already served accounted for.

Earlier on Monday, a Moscow court found both men guilty on most of the charges prosecution pressed against them. Some of the charges had been dropped since too much time had passed since the offences took place.

It took the judge four days to read the full text of the sentence.

Read Gleb Pavlovsky's comment here

Russia’s Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said the sentence was certainly harsh and that it is unlikely to put an end to the case.

“We have a system for appealing, the institution of pardoning which, according to the constitution, is controlled by the president. Let’s see how they work,” he said.

The convicts’ lawyers however are skeptical about possible pardon and will not apply for one, Vadim Klyuvgant, who represented Lebedev, told the media.

“The sentence is unlawful, groundless and is not based on real evidence, the ruling was done under you-know-which-side’s pressure,” Yury Shmidt, Khodorkovsky’s counsel said.

The defense has already launched an appeal, one of the lawyers, Karinna Moskalenko, said.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Council on Human Rights announced an intention to scrutinize the new sentence, the head of the Council, Mikhail Fedotov, told Interfax news agency.

“The Council has been monitoring this high-profile case. And as in the case of Sergey Magnitsky [a Russian lawyer, whose death in police custody sparked a major scandal – RT] the Council is likely to create a working group to study the court’s sentence,” he said.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev are at the focus of a controversy. Supporters say the two criminal cases against them are politically motivated and have branded the trials as a mockery.

Speaking about international reaction toward the verdict, editor in chief of Business New Europe Ben Aris says the West will not support Russia’s decision to keep former oil tycoon behind bars. Indeed, this could seriously damage the country’s political image abroad.

“Condemnation,” Aris predicted the Western reaction would be. “People don’t see this is a fair trial. They see him as a victim of a political attack."

­“I think there’s truth to that. At the same time…as I’ve said before he’s not a martyr. However, it plays very much into the ‘Russia-bashing’ story that much of the Western press has been doing; the authoritarianism of the state and what have you, because they don’t see a process here – there are some technical problems with the case. And so it ends up being a ‘black eye’ for Russia’s investment image, Russia’s political image,”  Aris concluded.

­Europe and the US have already expressed sharp criticism of the sentence handed down to the Russian businessmen, and the White House has even gone so far as to warn that the sentence could complicate Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.

­An observer from the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Dmitry Babich, says the western attitude to this case has completely changed since Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003. 

“Interestingly, though, that till 2003, the year when Khodorkovsky was arrested, western leaders and mass-media also demanded to respect the law and called on Russian authorities to do the opposite thing. They urged restraining Russian oligarchs, calling them “robber-barons” (that's how Khodorkovsky was named in the New York Times),” Babich writes in his article.

For many Russians, the two former businessmen remain criminals brought to justice for the shady way they made their fortunes in the 1990s.

This verdict draws a line between the past and the future, says politician and energy industry expert Vladimir Semago. It is a trial of the economic and political relations that used to exist in the country, he says.

Khodorkovsky and his associates had many friends among the authorities, explains Semago. He adds that in the ’90s, everything was based on good relations between the authorities and the businessmen. So the verdict, says the analyst, might mean Russia will finally leave those times behind and step into the future, where business will be functioning on the basis of the law.

A journalist from the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Sergey Strokan says that some people didn’t expect the verdict would be so stern, but when the judge started to read the sentence it became clear that the charges were serious.

“The person can be smart, articulate, soft-spoken but that doesn’t necessary mean it is synonymous with being not guilty.”

Strokan says that companies like Yukos and businessmen like Khodorkovsky are a phenomenon with deep roots in an inefficient Soviet economy and privatization.

“Examining the case of ‘Yukos’ one can study the history of Russian businessmen and the history of crime and punishment,” said Strokan.

­The trial sends an important message from the executive authorities that they are “serious about punishing the thieves of the 1990s,” says Viktor Linnik, editor-in-chief of Slovo newspaper.

It is fair to ask why Khodorkovsky is the only [who has been convicted]. Where are the others? I think that Khodorkovsky’s trial is a signal that others are yet to follow,” Linnik said.