Khodorkovsky gets reduced jail term

The Moscow City Court ruled on Tuesday to reduce by one year the prison sentences for former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner ex-Menatep head Platon Lebedev.

The two businessmen will remain behind bars until 2016 instead of 2017, serving a total of 13 years in prison upon their release.

Meanwhile, the defense team for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev has expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling and said they will seek an appeal of the case at the Moscow City Court Panel.

That move, however, will be just a supplement to their “main step,” which is to file additional complaints to the European Court of Human Rights, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told journalists.

The Moscow City Court was hearing an appeal from the businessmen against the Khamovnichesky district court ruling that found the two guilty of oil embezzlement and money laundering.

The court on Tuesday also satisfied a request from the prosecution, ruling that the former Yukos co-owners had stolen 128 million tons less oil than they were initially accused of.

"Given the decrease by state prosecutors as to the size of the embezzlement, we request that the decrease (of the amount of oil stolen by the defendants) be stated in the verdict," the prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, the state prosecutors saw no grounds for reducing the original prison sentence for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.

“Arguments provided by Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and their lawyers are groundless and therefore must be rejected,” Prosecutor Valery Lakhtin told the court on Tuesday, reports RIA Novosti. He also stated that the defendants’ claim that they were sentenced twice for the same crime is “a lie”.

Commenting on the defense team’s assertions that the final verdict against the businessmen was influenced by statements by Prime Minister Vladimir, the prosecutor said that it was the defendants and their lawyers who in fact pressured the court.

The lawyers’ efforts to present Putin’s comments, which were given during his annual Q&A session, as pressure on the court were declared to be “unfounded”.

High-ranking Russian officials have not evaluated the charges brought against Khodorkovsky and have not analyzed the legal proof collected within the case said the prosecutor.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky stated that the court of appeals has enough reasons to overturn the second guilty verdict against him.

“The absurdity of charges and the verdict are obvious. There are enough contradictions for the embezzlement case to be closed due to a lack of criminal evidence," he said, cites Interfax.

Addressing the court, Khodorkovsky stated that the sentence cannot be improved and “any cosmetic changes would look stupid”. He insisted that the earlier verdict should be overturned, adding that he did not need any favors and was not asking for his sentence to be reduced.

The appeal was heard by a three-judge panel headed by Vladimir Usov.

On December 30, the Moscow District Khamovnichesky Court sentenced Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to 13.5 years in prison each, in the second case against them. The court found the two men guilty of embezzling oil revenues and money laundering. The new sentence was concurrent with the original one, meaning that the time already served would be deducted from the new term. In 2004 the two businessmen were sentenced to eight years in prison, which means that they are to remain behind bars until 2017.

Speaking at court on Tuesday, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant referred to the verdict delivered last year as “an experiment” in justice. He added that by the time the sentence was pronounced, the case lacked and continues to lack trustworthy minutes of the court proceedings.

With the minutes that are attached to the case, it would be impossible even to discover how exactly the trial was held and to check up evidence or how exactly the case was constructed by the defense. In addition to multiple “pranks” such as the misinterpretation of witnesses’ accounts, the document does not provide the defense lawyers’ statements.

Lebedev described the second sentence in the Yukos case as falsified.

"It is not a verdict, whatever is written on this piece of paper," he stated, as quoted by Interfax. The former Menatep head added that with his 40-years’ experience of working in economics, he can see that both the verdict and indictment were “incompetently” falsified. “Several stupid misappropriation schemes were invented," he claimed.

According to Lebedev, the Khamovnichesky Court Judge, Viktor Danilkin, should have returned the criminal case to prosecutors immediately after he had received it due to a large number of violations.

The December verdict stirred up a wave of criticism in Russia as well as abroad, with many seeing it as unfair or too harsh. Lawyers representing Khodorkovsky and Lebedev appealed the sentence of the district court.

Initially, the appeal was to be heard on May 17, but Judge Usov postponed the hearings till May 24 as the court needed time to study additional materials submitted by the defense.