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Russian court orders review of Mikhail Khodorkovsky convictions

AFP | Last Updated: Thursday, December 26, 2013 - 12:51

Moscow: Russia`s highest court on Wednesday agreed to review the two sets of convictions against Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky following his surprise early release from prison and lightning transfer to Germany.

The country`s former richest man and most famous post-Soviet prisoner was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin last week in what was widely seen as an attempt to improve Russia`s image ahead of February`s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Putin`s pardon drew only cautious praise from Western powers because it sliced just eight months off Khodorkovsky`s sentence of nearly 11 years - a jail term his supporters view as politically motivated.
But Khodorkovsky himself told the Kommersant business daily: "I welcome the supreme court chairman`s decision."

Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2003 and convicted in 2005 of fraud and tax evasion linked to his time as boss of the now-defunct private oil giant Yukos.

He and co-defendant Platon Lebedev were sentenced again in 2010 on a new set of money-laundering and embezzlement charges that were brought shortly before both were set to be released.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in July that the 2005 charges against Khodorkovsky and his business partner "had a sound basis, but the hearing of their case was unfair, and their placement in remote penal colonies unjustified".
A spokesman for Russia`s supreme court said on Wednesday that a review of both the 2005 and 2010 convictions of the two men would be conducted within the next two months.

"Formally, this should be reviewed within the next two months, but I think it is actually going to happen much sooner," court spokesman Pavel Odintsov told AFP.

Khodorkovsky arrived in Berlin on Friday from his penal colony near the Finnish border following two years of mediation between the Kremlin and Germany`s former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

He has since applied for a three-month Schengen visa to travel to Switzerland where his twin sons attend school.

Khodorkovsky`s supporters in Russia and abroad have long argued that the former tycoon was being punished for using his wealth to fund the opposition.

The 50-year-old has said he will stay out of Russia for as long as the 2005 court order for him to pay $550 million in damages remained in place.=

Khodorkovsky`s cancer-stricken mother Marina said she discussed the possibility of her son`s return to Russia when she met him in Berlin over the weekend.

"Most likely, if the (supreme court decision on the first case) is positive, he will return to his homeland," Marina Khodorkovskaya told Interfax.

"But this will probably be a political decision and not a legal one," she added in reference to Putin`s personal involvement in the case.

Analysts said the rapid sequence of events around Khodorkovsky and the accompanying amnesty that freed the two members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot showed that Putin was now willing to release from prison critics whom he did not view as a direct threat.

But Moscow`s Higher School of Economics professor Nikolai Petrov said he expected the court to issue only a partial ruling that will still leave the former oil baron`s future up in the air.

"I do not expect him to return anytime soon," said Petrov.

"Everything will depend on how he conducts himself and what he decides to do."

Khodorkovsky has promised to stay out of Russian politics and not to fund anti-Putin parties because this would discredit them in the eyes of voters who still view post-Soviet oligarchs with distrust.

But he has also vowed to campaign for the release of "political prisoners" in Russia - a cause supported by the Pussy Riot band mates.

First Published: Thursday, December 26, 2013 - 12:51
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