Russia accuses West of meddling in trial of oil tycoon

Russia has accused Western nations of exerting
“unacceptable” pressure over the trial of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail
Khodorkovsky.

Russia’s foreign ministry was reacting to criticism by
the US and Germany on Monday after a second guilty verdict was delivered
against Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, once seen as a threat to former President
Vladimir Putin, was convicted of embezzlement.

He was first jailed in 2005, for fraud and tax evasion.

Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon
Lebedev were back in court on Tuesday as the judge continued reading out his
verdict.

It is unclear when their sentences will be pronounced.

“Attempts to exert pressure on the court are
unacceptable,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on its
website.

“We expect everyone to mind his own business, both
at home and in the international arena.”

The Khodorkovsky case has become an irritant in relations
between Russia and Western countries even though it has not derailed progress
on other fronts such as co-operation on sanctions against Iran and transit for
Nato forces into Afghanistan and the agreement on nuclear weapons in the new
Start treaty.

Western governments have to be careful not to criticise
the principle of anti-corruption moves in Moscow so those critical of Russia
have concentrated on what they claim is the selective nature of prosecutions.
These have been targeted, they say, at political opponents of the Russian
government.

This case is also seen in the West as part of Moscow’s
failure to develop a proper rule of law. The Russians, however, have had little
difficulty in painting Khodorkovsky as a thief and oligarch and so reject what
they regard as interference, saying that this reflects badly on those who
defend him.

Assertions that justice was being applied selectively in
Russia were, the statement said, “groundless”.

The judge found Khodorkovsky and Lebedev guilty of
stealing from their own firm, Yukos, and laundering the proceeds.

Delivering the full verdict and sentence is expected to
take several days.

The White House said it was “deeply concerned”
about the verdict, calling it a “selective application” of justice.

Germany said the trial was “a step back”.

Khodorkovsky, in custody since 2003, was less than a year
from completing his first prison sentence for fraud when he and Lebedev were
convicted on Monday.

Khodorkovsky’s lawyers dismissed the charges as an absurd
pretext to keep the two men behind bars.

One of them, Vadim Klyuvgant, condemned “an unjust
verdict by a court that is not free”, saying it was “shameful for the
country”.

 US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton said the trial had raised “serious
questions” about the rule of law in Russia and the verdict would have a
“negative impact on Russia’s reputation”.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was
“very worried” by the conviction.

“The way the trial has been conducted is extremely
dubious and a step backward on the road toward a modernisation of the
country,” he said in a
statement.

“It is in the interest of our Russian partners to
take these concerns seriously and to stand up for the rule of law, democracy
and human rights.”

Richard Ottaway, chairman of the UK parliament’s Foreign
Affairs Committee, said the “due process of law that we in the UK would
recognise” had not been followed.

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