MOSCOW - The stiff prison sentence given to oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky at his most recent trial was dictated to the district court judge who handled the case by "a higher authority," one of his aides told a news Web site here.
Judge Viktor Danilkin was summoned to the Moscow City appellate court on Saturday, Dec. 25, and told that he would not be determining Khodorkovsky's sentence, Natalya Vasilieva, his press secretary, told the gazeta.ru Web site, which published the interview Monday.
Instead, the sentence was handed to him by judges from the higher court, she said. They were apparently unsatisfied with the sentence Danilkin had been working on following Khodorkovsky's conviction for embezzlement and money-laundering, in a case that was widely criticized as a political vendetta pursued at the behest of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The appellate court issued a denial in Danilkin's name. A prominent defense lawyer called the revelation "a bomb," and said that if it is true it represents a gross violation of the law. Khodorkovsky's attorney said he worried that the report was some sort of provocation.
Vasilieva said that she expects to lose her job but that she couldn't keep quiet. She could not be reached for comment Monday.
Reading in a rapid monotone, Danilkin sentenced Khodorkovsky on Dec. 30 to the maximum term allowed under the law, which would keep him in prison until 2017.