Let court rule on Khodorkovsky, not us: Russian Prez

Khodorkovsky is facing a trial on charges of embezzling $25 bn worth of oil.

Updated: Dec 25, 2010, 12:19 PM IST

Moscow: President Dmitry Medvedev urged officials on Friday to refrain from commenting on the case of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky before the court rules — his latest effort to try to improve the rule of law in Russia.

Medvedev`s comments came only a week after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared Khodorkovsky, once Russia`s richest man, to the US disgraced financier Bernard Madoff who cheated investors out of an estimated USD 20 billion through a Ponzi fraud. Putin said Khodorkovsky deserves no leniency — a statement widely denounced as interfering in the trial.

"Neither the President nor any other state official has the right to comment on this particular case before the verdict is passed," Medvedev said in a live interview with Russia`s state TV stations.

Khodorkovsky was convicted of underpaying taxes on the profits from his Yukos oil company and is serving an eight-year sentence. His case has been widely seen as punishment for daring to challenge the Kremlin`s political and economic power during Putin`s presidency, in part by funding opposition parties in parliament.

Khodorkovsky is now facing a second trial on charges of embezzling USD 25 billion worth of oil. A judge is to begin delivering the long-awaited verdict on that case on Monday.

Medvedev, who has promised to establish independent courts and strengthen the rule of law in Russia, insisted that he saw no evidence to support claims that prosecutors were selective in applying the law and punishing the tycoon for common business practices.

If convicted, Khodorkovsky faces prison sentences of up to 14 years, which could keep him in jail until at least 2017.

Putin has remained Russia`s No 1 leader even after he shifted into the prime minister`s seat following eight years as president. He has not ruled out a return to the presidency in 2012, and critics suspect him of wanting to keep Khodorkovsky incarcerated until after the election.

Khodorkovsky published an opinion piece in the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Friday that contained a harsh criticism of Putin. He blamed Putin`s policies for encouraging the xenophobia that has spilled into violent riots by racist hooligans in Moscow earlier this month.

"Thousands and thousands of teenagers suddenly gone brutal are too loud a wake-up call," he said. "Our children do not see any prospects for themselves. This is a dangerous and evident result of Putin`s `stability`.

They are the most tragic result of the decade of "getting off our knees" when money is plenty but there is no compassion”.

Referring to Putin`s fondness for dogs, Khodorkovsky described it as "the only sincere and kind feeling gushing through the icy armour of `the national symbol` of the 2000s."

He ended his piece by wishing Putin "kindness and tolerance" and expressing "a feeling of pity for this aging man, so brisk and so lonely before this vast and ruthless country”.

A recent opinion poll showed that no more than 4 percent of Russians believe that there will be a "not guilty" verdict in Khodorkovsky`s case.

Bureau Report