European Court of Human Rights rules Khodorkovsky case 'not political'
“The Court was prepared to admit that some government
officials had their own reasons to push for the applicants’
prosecution. However, it was insufficient to conclude that the
applicants would not have been convicted otherwise,” reads
the ECHR judgement.
“None of the accusations against the applicants had concerned
their political activities, the applicants were not opposition
leaders or public officials, and the acts they stood accused of
were not directly related to their participation in political
The verdict concerned the first criminal case against
Khodorkovsky and his key business partner Platon Lebedev, which
sentenced the two to eight-year prison terms for running complex
tax evasion schemes while managing Yukos - one of the biggest oil
producers in the world at the time.
The complaint to the ECHR was filed in 2006, after defense lawyers unsuccessfully attempted to appeal the sentences. The defendants argued that the schemes they used were widespread and legally used, and that the charges were applied selectively against them.
Russian human rights activist and member of the Presidential
Council for Human Rights, Kirill Kabanov, said that the ECHR
decision “draws a line” under the Yukos case, with no
legal authority left for which the businessmen can appeal.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group - one of
the oldest Russian human rights organizations - called the
Strasbourg ruling “not only soft, but also cowardly.”
“If they failed to see the political component in this case,
there must be something wrong with their eyes,” Interfax
quoted the activist as saying.
The ECHR did accept several of Lebedev and Khodorkovsky’s
complaints, and awarded the latter 10,000 euros.
The court stated that the decision to send former Yukos CEO
Lebedev to penal colonies in distant regions violated the right
of respect to private and family life.
Another reprimand to Russian authorities was that they allegedly
pressured Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, and thus violated his right to
file individual complaints.
Lawyer Karina Moskalenko told Deutsche Welle that the legal team
was “very satisfied” with the recognition of multiple
violations during the trial, and said that those were sufficient
to legally reverse the verdict itself. She said that the media
was paying excessive attention to the political persecution
details, at the expense of more subtle legal points which were
ruled in Khodorkovsky’s favor.
Russian authorities welcomed the decision, said Andrey Fyodorov,
envoy to the Strasbourg Court. The official added that Russia’s
Justice Ministry needed some time to study the court ruling and
make a decision as to whether the EU line should be appealed. He
did not say how long the assessment might take.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are still awaiting the outcome of their
appeal of a second, more controversial charge of embezzlement -
brought against them when they had already been behind bars for
Kabanov noted that while he was confident that the first
Khodorkovsky trial and sentence were just, he had questions
concerning the second Yukos case - especially after the ECHR
launched its own probe into it.
After the widely covered trial, Vladimir Putin famously commented that “A thief should be in jail.” The verdict in the second Yukos case was announced in late 2010, with Khodorkovsky and Lebedev found guilty of large-scale theft and money laundering, and sentenced to 14 years each. Upon review, the sentences were later cut to 11 years each. The court ruled that the terms be served concurrently with the existing jail terms - meaning the sentences of the two businessmen are set to expire in 2014.