Anti-Putin Russian tycoon gets 14-year jail term

He was allegedly punished for financing Putin`s opponents.

Last Updated: Dec 30, 2010, 23:49 PM IST

Moscow: A Moscow court on Thursday sentenced Russia`s former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky to 14 years in jail in his second fraud trial, in a verdict the defence said was ordered by his nemesis Vladimir Putin.

Under the terms of the verdict, the sentence means the jailed Yukos oil company founder and his co-accused Platon Lebedev will stay in jail until 2017, removing a key opponent of Putin from the political scene for years to come.

The two, already serving an eight year sentence from their first trial, do not qualify for a suspended term, judge Viktor Danilkin told the court.

The reading of the verdict in the packed courtroom was the culmination of the most controversial trial in Russia`s post-Soviet history which critics said was staged simply to punish Khodorkovsky for daring to oppose Putin.

"May you and your offspring be damned!" one woman, apparently Khodorkovsky`s mother, shouted as the verdict was read out. But the two defendants reacted calmly to the decision, a reporter who attended the court proceedings said.

Lebedev was given an identical sentence, which fulfilled the demands of prosecutors without the slightest change.

"It`s a cruel, shameful sentence which shows the absence of independent courts in Russia," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, one of Russia`s top rights activists.

"An independent court would never have given such a verdict in this absurd case," she told the Interfax news agency.

Taking into account time served since first his first arrest in 2003, the verdict means that the Yukos oil company founder and Lebedev will stay in jail until 2017, Khodorkovsky`s official website said.

"This is not a sentence, this is a case of lawlessness," defence lawyer Yury Shmidt told reporters after the sentence which he vowed to appeal. "There was pressure from the executive branch which is now headed by Putin."

Judge Danilkin earlier this week convicted the pair in their second trial on money laundering and embezzlement charges, a verdict condemned by the United States and other European countries as selective prosecution.

"The correction of Khodorokvsky and Lebedev is possible only by way of their isolation from society," the judge told the court.

Russia`s complex sentencing procedure required the judge to read out the hundreds of pages in the judgement after Monday`s guilty verdict before giving his decision.

In a scene sometimes bordering on farce, Danilkin hurried through the reading of the full verdict, keeping his eyes fixed on the document and not looking at the court, with his words frequently inaudible.

Khodorkovsky has been in prison since being snatched off his private jet by Russian security agents in October 2003. His supporters have always alleged he was punished for daring to finance the opposition to then president Putin.

The founder of Russia`s largest -- and some said best managed -- oil company was later in 2005 convicted on tax evasion and other charges and sentenced to serve time in a Siberian jail until 2011.

In the new trial, he was charged with embezzling 218 million tonnes of oil from his Yukos oil giant between 1998 and 2003 and laundering 487 billion rubles (16 billion dollars) and 7.5 billion dollars received from the oil.

The defence called the charges utterly absurd since the amount of oil said to have been embezzled would be equivalent to the entire production of Yukos in that period.

Danilkin had earlier added to the string of other crimes attributed to the jailed tycoon by saying Khodorkovsky had broken the law by filing some of his financial reports in English only.

"If they stole billions then I ask, where are those billions?" Khodorkovsky`s father Boris told reporters at the trial. "Does he have anything of his own now, does he have personal property?"

The verdict had been largely expected even before Putin used a national television broadcast to affirm that a "thief must be in jail", comments many interpreted as a direct order for the court to convict Khodorkovsky again.

Bureau Report