MOSCOW — A court in a small northern town refused parole to former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s business partner Wednesday, a ruling widely expected following other legal decisions against both men.
Platon Lebedev, a 54-year-old economist who ran Yukos Oil with Khodorkovsky, has been in prison since 2003 and eligible for parole since January 2010. His lawyers called the decision to keep him in prison a travesty.
“Lebedev is being held hostage to the political battle that broke out between the Kremlin and his business partner Mikhail Khodorkovsky,” his legal team said in a statement issued after the judgment was made public about 9 p.m. Moscow time.
The treatment of the two men has drawn criticism around the world. Human rights and other critics say Khodorkovsky was prosecuted because he financed opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who was president when Khodorkovsky was arrested in October 2003.
In December, after the two men were convicted a second time — on charges of embezzlement and money laundering — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a strong statement, saying the verdict “raises serious questions about selective prosecution — and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations.”
Lebedev’s chances for release appeared dim at the first day of the parole hearing Tuesday, when authorities at Penal Colony No. 14 in the remote Arkhangelsk region complained that he had lost a pair of prison pants and had spoken impolitely to a guard.
“The prison administration believes that the inmate has failed to embark on the path of rectification,” a prison official told the judge Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Lebedev was taken to the prison camp nearly two months ago from Moscow, where he and Khodorkovsky had been held during the second trial, begun as they neared the end of their original sentences. Both are serving terms that expire in 2016. Khodorkovsky is in Penal Colony No. 7 in Segezha in Karelia, a northern region near Finland.
In his statement to the judge Wednesday, Lebedev said, “I believe that it is unacceptable for Russia to have political prisoners. You now have a chance to put this right.”
In rejecting the parole request, Judge Nikolai Raspopov felt it necessary to say he had made his decision independent of political pressure.