Russia rebuffs Western criticism of oil tycoon's trial

Some of Mikhail Khodorkovsky supporters hold his portrait outside a court room in Moscow, Monday, Dec. 27, 2010. A Russian judge starts delivering the verdict in the second trial of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man who is serving an eight-year sentence in a case widely seen as punishment for challenging the Kremlin and is now facing several more years in prison if convicted. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Some of Mikhail Khodorkovsky supporters hold his portrait outside a court room in Moscow, Monday, Dec. 27, 2010. A Russian judge starts delivering the verdict in the second trial of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man who is serving an eight-year sentence in a case widely seen as punishment for challenging the Kremlin and is now facing several more years in prison if convicted. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) (Ivan Sekretarev - AP)
By Catherine Belton
Tuesday, December 28, 2010; 6:05 PM

Russia has warned the West to mind its business, accusing it of attempting to influence the trial of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and calling condemnation of the guilty verdict against him "unacceptable."

In a statement released Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry described as groundless the West's criticism of the decision by a Moscow court in the politically fraught second trial of Russia's onetime richest man on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

The White House and foreign ministries across Europe had decried the Monday verdict, saying that it raised questions about the Kremlin's commitment to boosting the rule of law and judicial independence and that it was an example of selective justice.

In response, Russia's Foreign Ministry said: "We would like to once again stress that this question is a matter for the legal system of the Russian Federation. Attempts to bring pressure on the court are unacceptable."

Noting that Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev stand accused of crimes that it said would draw life sentences in the United States, the ministry said, "We are counting on everyone to mind his own business - both at home and in the international arena."

On Tuesday, Judge Viktor Danilkin continued reading the verdict in a case that has come to define Vladimir Putin's Russia. Danilkin said Monday that the court had found Khodorkovsky and Lebedev guilty of embezzling tens of billions of dollars worth of oil from their company, but it could take several days for him to read what appears to be a 250-page verdict and announce the sentence.

Investors said a lighter sentence than the maximum of 14 years that state prosecutors are seeking could help alleviate concerns about the rule of law in Russia. Both men have spent seven years in jail since they were arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud and tax evasion. That case heralded a crackdown on the opposition by Putin, who was president at the time and is now prime minister, and the state's takeover of the commanding heights of the economy. Shortly after their arrests, Yukos, once Russia's biggest oil producer, was broken up and taken over mainly by state-controlled Rosneft.

If sentenced to 14 years, the two men could spend an additional six years in jail once their first sentence expires next year.

Some critics say the charges that both men stole $27 billion worth of oil, or all the oil their company produced from 1998 to 2000 and all the oil it exported from 2000 to 2003, are absurd. German Gref, the former economy minister, has testified he would have noticed such large-scale theft.

The trial has been seen as a test of pledges by Putin's successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, to boost the justice system's independence.

- Financial Times


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