European Court of Human Rights rules Khodorkovsky case 'not political'

European Court of Human Rights rules Khodorkovsky case 'not political'
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s complaint that his jailing for tax evasion in 2005 was “politically motivated from start to finish,” saying the charges against him had a “healthy core.”

“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 life.”

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 five years.

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.