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"Does Vladimir Putin want life imprisonment for Mikhail Khodorkovsky?"

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Does Vladimir Putin want life imprisonment for Mikhail Khodorkovsky?

By Vera Vasilieva

Created 29/11/2009 - 18:17

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has once again stated that the YUKOS company was involved in crimes against the person and that “these acts have been proved in court.” In addition, the Prime Minister compared Mikhail Khodorkovsky with the fraudster Bernard Madoff and with Al Capone, a gangster of the Prohibition era in the US. These statements were made on 27 November, 2009 at a press conference given by Vladimir Putin in Paris.

According to Interfax [1], Vladimir Putin was answering questions from French journalists about the most well-known Russian criminal cases, including the YUKOS case.

"Mr. Madoff got life imprisonment in the United States and no one turned a hair. People say it served him right", Putin said.

He also recalled the “notorious” case in Britain, where the extradition of a hacker, whose actions caused losses estimated at a million dollars, is being decided:

"They are going to extradite him to the USA where he faces 60 years in prison. Why don’t you ask about him?" asked the Prime Minister, apparently at a loss.

According to Putin, "the activities of some of the defendants in [the YUKOS] criminal cases caused losses to Russia worth billions of dollars." "In addition," Putin said, "You have to consider the cases concerned attempts on the life and well-being of specific people in the course of [the defendants'] so-called business activities."

The Russian Prime Minister especially stressed that "these acts, these episodes have been proved in court."

"As you’ll recall, in the 1930s in the United States Al Capone was prosecuted for tax evasion. Formally. But in fact this was for the whole set of crimes he committed,” said Vladimir Putin.

The Prime Minister said that everything that happens in Russia, "takes place within the framework of current law."

Vladimir Putin has made similar statements on more than one occasion. For example, as recently as 7 October this year, as recorded by[2], at a meeting with Russian writers the Prime Minister said: "In talking about him [Mikhail Khodorkovsky] and other defendants in the case, the main thing is to remember that they were involved in murders...This has been proved in court".

And even earlier, in the second half of 2003, after the arrest of the head of YUKOS’ security department, Alexei Pichugin [3], and the head of the Menatep bank Platon Lebedev, in answering questions from foreign journalists Vladimir Putin insisted: "We are not only talking about economic crimes, there are also murders involved here."

It should be particularly noted that in the latter case, the then President of Russia made his statement even before the trials of Alexei Pichugin, Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky had started, when there could be no question of guilt having been proved. Meanwhile, it is obvious that these subjective remarks made by the highest Russian government official influenced the points of view of the investigative authorities and the courts, and in the final analysis played a role in the convictions.

However, even after the sentences entered into force, well-known human rights defenders, public figures and influential international organizations continue to doubt whether the actions in question have been proved in court.

As early as 11 April 2005, the international human rights organization Amnesty International expressed the view [4] that "the arrest and criminal prosecution of the former head of the YUKOS company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and others connected with YUKOS, has a significant political context."

Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Sabina Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, having studied the Pichugin case, in her report "Allegations of politically-motivated abuses of the criminal justice system in Council of Europe member states," published 23 June, 2009, wrote [5] of her fear that "Mr Pichugin may have also fallen victim to the unrelenting campaign against all those related to YUKOS and its leading executives."

In the first criminal case against Alexei Pichugin even the corpses of the alleged victims had not been found, and in the second, all the evidence of the prosecution’s "witnesses" was based on hearsay. Subsequently, the chief witnesses for the prosecution repudiated [6] their testimony against the YUKOS defendants.

It should be added that neither Mikhail Khodorkovsky nor Platon Lebedev have ever been accused of crimes against the person.

It can hardly be the case that Vladimir Putin is not aware of the above facts. Nor can it be that he is unable to assess them as a lawyer. Therefore the only conclusion that can be drawn is that, in comparing Mikhail Khodorkovsky with mafia bosses, or affirming that the YUKOS company was involved in murders and that this has been proved in court and everything is "within the framework of current law”, the head of the Russian government is deliberately misleading Russian and international public opinion. And the fabricated case against Alexei Pichugin is now being used to denigrate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Evidently, such sweeping pronouncements are calculated for an audience that is both inadequately informed and impressionable.

Furthermore, it is of great concern that Vladimir Putin insistently repeats words about the supposedly criminal nature of activities of the disgraced oil company at a time when the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev is taking place.

Lawyers call such actions attempts to exert illegal pressure on the courts. And public statements of this kind by the Prime Minister may well be assessed by the defence and by trial observers as exerting influence on Moscow’s Khamovniki district court for the purpose of persuading the court to find the defendants guilty.

· The YUKOS Affair

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Rights in Russia,
30 Nov 2009, 04:37