Yukos Lawyer to Be Freed From Jail

Svetlana Bakhmina was arrested in December 2004 on embezzlement charges.
Svetlana Bakhmina was arrested in December 2004 on embezzlement charges. (Ruslan Krivobok - AP)
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By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

MOSCOW, April 21 -- Svetlana Bakhmina, the jailed lawyer whose request for a Kremlin pardon prompted an unprecedented outpouring of support on the Internet, was ordered released on parole Tuesday, nearly five months after giving birth to a baby girl while in state custody.

Bakhmina, 39, was expected to be reunited with her husband and two other children Wednesday after prosecutors dropped their objections to her early release and a Moscow judge cut her 6 1/2 -year sentence by more than two years, according to Roman Golovkin, her lawyer.

The courts had rejected Bakhmina's previous parole applications despite the recommendation of prison officials, prompting supporters to accuse the authorities of punishing her on political grounds. Bakhmina was arrested in December 2004 on embezzlement charges during a government campaign against her employer, the Yukos oil company, and its chief, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then the wealthiest man in Russia.

More than a dozen Yukos executives were jailed in the crackdown, which was seen as an attempt by then-President Vladimir Putin to silence an influential political foe. Bakhmina's case attracted renewed attention after she became pregnant last March, when prison officials granted her a furlough for good behavior and let her visit her family.

Bakhmina was moved from a prison clinic in the remote region of Mordovia to a civilian hospital in the Moscow area shortly before delivering the child. She has been allowed to stay with the newborn at the hospital.

"Finally, it happened," Golovkin said of the parole. "Now Svetlana is free to see her children, her husband, her mother, her friends. It's very good news."

Olga Bogdanova, a high school classmate whose letter asking President Dmitry Medvedev to pardon Bakhmina sparked an online campaign that attracted nearly 100,000 supporters, said she and others in the courtroom fought back tears and cheered when the decision was announced.

"I can't even imagine what it feels like for her," she said. "I just wish that she will be home as soon as possible."

Many of Bakhmina's supporters have maintained she is innocent and the victim of a political feud between Putin and Khodorkovsky, who had been using his riches to finance opposition political parties and is now serving an eight-year prison sentence.

The campaign for Bakhmina's release won the support of a host of prominent politicians, writers and artists in Russia. It has been seen as a test of Medvedev's pledge to establish independent courts and the rule of law, as has a second trial that opened against Khodorkovsky last month in Moscow.

The former tycoon's lawyers have described the new proceeding as a show trial designed to keep Khodorkovsky in prison indefinitely. Prosecutors accuse Khodorkovsky of embezzling more than $25 billion worth of oil in the largest theft in modern Russian history. He pleaded not guilty to the new charges Tuesday, ridiculing prosecutors for accusing him of stealing virtually every drop of oil produced by Yukos between 1998 and 2003. He and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, a co-defendant, also argued that the new allegations contradict the tax evasion charges on which they were convicted five years ago.

The trial and the parole proceedings for Bakhmina have fueled speculation about a Kremlin rift between Medvedev, who has portrayed himself as a liberal reformer, and former security officials surrounding Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, whom Khodorkovsky has accused of orchestrating his prosecution and the seizure of the Yukos empire.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company