RUSSIA: Oil Tycoon Convicted and Sentenced to 9 Years in Jail

Publisher Name: 
New York Times

 A Russian court convicted Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky,
the embattled tycoon and founder of the Yukos oil company, of criminal
charges today and sentenced him to nine years in a prison camp,
bringing to an end the most closely watched trial in Russia since the
Soviet Union collapsed.

The verdict and the sentence concluded a lengthy legal exercise whose ending long ago felt foregone.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, 41, who had been the wealthiest man in Russia
until he publicly challenged President Vladimir V. Putin, was found
guilty of six charges, including fraud and tax evasion.

Under the terms of his sentence, his remaining prison term will be
reduced by the 19 months of pretrial confinement he has already served,
and it will end in 2012. Platon Lebedev, a Yukos colleague and fellow
defendant, was given the same sentence. Prosecutors had asked for
maximum sentences of 10 years.

The court also ordered the two men to pay about $613 million in
taxes and fines. A third defendant, Andrei Krainov, was convicted and
given a suspended sentence of five and a half-years.

The verdicts were read just before 1 p.m. in a small crowded
courtroom near Moscow's center. After the judges called for all to rise
and the sentences were handed down, the chief judge asked the two men
if they understood the charges and their resolution, according to
pooled reports of the journalists allowed into the room.

Mr. Khodorkovsky called the results "a monument to Basmanny
justice," referring to the name of the local court where the charges
originated and where his defense team claims a rigged prosecution began.

Mr. Lebedev's tone was biting. "Any normal person would not understand," he said.

In the small area where spectators could stand, Mr. Khodorkovsky's
wife sobbed, comforted by his father. As word of the verdicts rippled
outside the court, protestors supporting the Yukos officials and kept
far from the court entrance by a contingent of guards, began chanting,
"Lawlessness!" "Not Guilty!" and "Shame!"

Another group of demonstrators, this one pro-government, was almost
silent. In interviews, several did not seem to know why they were
there, suggesting they had been brought to the court by an interested
party.

The sentences end, for the moment, the rout of Mr. Khodorkovsky,
several associates and the Yukos oil company, which lost its core asset
in an auction last year - one that was also widely criticized as
Kremlin-rigged. Prosecutors, however, said more charges were expected.
They did not offer details.

Mr. Khodorkovsky was variously regarded in Russia as a victim of
Kremlin vindictiveness or a ruthless and unsavory speculator who
amassed his almost uncountable fortune on insider deals. Having
financed opposition parties, he appeared to have political ambitions of
his own.

The energy tycoon once led a company that employed more than 100,000
people and pumped more crude oil than the nation of Libya. As his
company's market share grew, he emerged as a player on the world's
energy stage.

Since his arrest in the fall of 2003, Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyers and
supporters have said that the case against him was largely driven by
political motivations and Kremlin pique. They characterized the legal
actions against him and the company he founded as Moscow's update on
the Communist Party's infamous show trials of old.

In his first term, Mr. Putin made clear his deep animosity to the
class of extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, known here as oligarchs,
who made their fortune during the period when the vast assets of the
Soviet state were privatized. Mr. Putin has since made peace with
several of them, but never Mr. Khodorkovsky, who was a critic of
Russia's centralized state.

There was public silence from the Kremlin today in the hours after the verdicts were read.

Western governments, including the United States, have warned that
Russia's handling of the case raises questions about the Kremlin's
commitment to a stable business environment and the rule of law.

The scene in the Meshchansky Court, where Mr. Khodorkovsky was
convicted, had long been predictable, as he and Mr. Lebedev, who had
been arrested by masked gunmen, were kept before the panel of judges in
a gray metal cage.

And after 12 mind-numbing days of reading the verdict, the judges
had spent most of their time this week dismissing much of Mr.
Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev's grounds for defense.

Lawyers for both men said this appeared to be a pre-emptive effort
to undermine any appeals, which the two men have 10 days to file.

The battle for the perception of the case began immediately. Yukos
issued a statement declaring the verdicts "a gross travesty of justice
produced by a judicial system that has not only been content to be
maneuvered to destroy Mikhail Khodorkovsky but also is intent on
bringing down Yukos."

Expressing some sentiment from the United States Congress,
Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, who sits on the House
International Relations Committee, appeared outside the court and was
harshly critical of the verdicts.

"This political trial, tried before this kangaroo court, has come to
a shameful conclusion," Mr. Lantos said. "The conclusion of this trial
was predetermined politically."

Mr. Lantos said he would reintroduce a motion to exclude Russia from
the Group of Eight industrial nations, a proposal the White House has
previously opposed. He also said he and his colleagues would keep a
close eye on any appeals.

The denunciations by Yukos and Mr. Lantos were joined by voices
throughout Russia's small opposition, but were also met by unequivocal
statements of support for the verdicts from people in Mr. Putin's
circle.

Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of Russia's
Parliament, a body largely compliant with Mr. Putin, said the verdicts
were exactly as expected.

"I would not have understood it if the court had acquitted
Khodorkovsky," Mr. Mironov told the Interfax news agency. "Then I would
have become doubtful about the prosecutor general's office."

Mr. Khodorkovsky, in a statement read outside the courthouse by one
of his lawyers, said he would try to maintain a public profile from
prison, and would underwrite foundations supporting poetry, philosophy
and prisoners in Russia.

As a man who now appears to have become the world's wealthiest
convict - the Russian edition of Forbes magazine estimated his wealth
this year at $2 billion, well below the $15 billion he was once thought
to possess - he seems to have the resources to keep his name in the
news.

Mr. Khodorkovsky also made clear his feelings about the case. "I
know that my conviction was decided in the Kremlin," his statement
said. "Some in the president's entourage insisted that only an
acquittal would inspire society's trust in the authorities. Others
believed I should be put in prison for a long time to deprive me of any
capacity to fight for freedom."

"To the first group, I would say, 'Thank you.' And I would like to
inform the others that they have not won. I will fight for freedom."

AMP Section Name:Corruption
  • 107 Energy