A European appeals court ruled Wednesday that Russia violated the human rights of Vladimir Gusinsky, the media mogul who fled into exile and whose television and print operations were seized in a politically charged legal campaign.
The European Court of Human Rights agreed with Gusinsky's assertions that a Russian criminal investigation against him in 2000 was politically motivated, finding that the state's actions "insistently suggest that the applicant's prosecution was used to intimidate him" into giving up his media empire, including NTV television.
The decision by the court, based in Strasbourg, France, represents a mostly symbolic victory for Gusinsky, who now splits his time between Israel and the United States. The court rejected his plea for $2.1 million in damages, saying that "the finding of a violation constitutes in itself sufficient just satisfaction" for the violations of the European human rights convention to which Russia is a party. The court, however, ordered the Russian government to pay $106,000 in legal fees, a judgment that officials said they would protest.
The court's repudiation of the Russian government in the Gusinsky case comes as the state pursues another major tycoon who fell out with President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil baron who was imprisoned on tax evasion and fraud charges in October, has filed a petition to the European court alleging that he is not receiving a fair trial.
The Council of Europe, which oversees the court, said Wednesday that it would send a former German justice minister as an envoy to Moscow next week to look into the case, and the council has asked for a meeting with Khodorkovsky in prison.
Russian authorities continued Wednesday to press their investigation into Khodorkovsky's oil firm, Yukos, by staging an all-day raid at company headquarters seeking additional evidence on a charge that one of its subsidiaries owes back taxes. The Russian tax service has already accused Yukos of failing to pay $3.5 billion in taxes.
A Moscow court issued an injunction Wednesday prohibiting the government from trying to collect those taxes pending an appeal by Yukos, a temporary victory for the firm. But the company also said Wednesday that creditors had sent it a notice of potential default on $1.6 billion in loans because of the tax case, the second such notice it has received recently.
Khodorkovsky is the third member of a once-influential generation of businessmen known as the oligarchs to be targeted since Putin came to office. Gusinsky and another media tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, both left the country to avoid criminal charges. Courts in Spain and Greece refused to extradite Gusinsky, and Britain granted Berezovsky political asylum.
by Russian government in 2000, and his media operations were seized.