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Kremlin orders review of Khodorkovsky case

05 march 2012, 12:59
Mikhail Khodorkovsky. ©RIA NOVOSTI
Mikhail Khodorkovsky. ©RIA NOVOSTI
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday ordered prosecutors to conduct a review of the legality of the conviction of jailed anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, AFP reports.

The unexpected announcement came one day after Vladimir Putin stormed to victory in polls securing his return to the presidency following two terms in 2000-2008 in which Russia originally launched the Khodorkovsky case.

The Kremlin statement said Medvedev had ordered Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika by April 1 conduct a "review of the legality and basis of the convictions of Russian citizens" including Khodorkovsky and co-accused Platon Lebedev.

The order applies to the convictions of 32 Russian citizens but by far the most prominent are Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.

The Kremlin gave no further details but said that the review had been ordered by Medvedev following a meeting with the leaders of unregistered and largely oppositional political parties on February 20.

It also followed a constitutional court ruling last week that said those in jail did not have to admit guilt to the crimes for which they were convicted in order to be eligible for parole.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers reacted to the decision with caution.

"This may be just a formality that means nothing," the former Yukos oil giant owner's attorney Yury Shmidt told the RIA Novosti news agency.

"Or it may be a signal that the people at the top decided to close the cases of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev... to prevent it from causing trouble for the authorities."

Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man and one of the few vocal critics of Putin when he was snatched off his private jet by state security agents in October 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges.

His arrest and subsequent conviction immediately drew Western concerns amid charges that Putin was using selective justice to crack down on his potential foes.

Khodorkovsky's stay in jail was extended until 2016 after a second controversial trial -- launched shortly before his impending release -- also found him guilty of embezzlement and other financial crimes.

The conviction review appears to apply only to his second conviction of embezzlement and financial crimes that was handed down in December 2010 and if lifted could potentially allow Khodorkovsky to be released.

Khodorkovsky is currently serving out his term at a penal colony in the northern region of Karelia.

Yukos was initially a murky institution that like most early post-Soviet ventures fell into private hands on the cheap in closely-scripted auctions.

But Khodorkovsky differed from many others by making a quick bet on adopting Western practices after winning control of the company for what economists later said was probably one-twentieth of its worth.

The former Komsomol youth group member named a group of US executives to the Yukos board and hired a New York-based public relations consultancy while publishing annual reports according to global accounting standards.

His company was already responsible for about a fifth of Russia's oil production in mid-2003 when it agreed the terms of an alliance with its smaller rival Sibneft that would have taken its total to that of Kuwait.

And another planned tie-up with what was then known as TexacoChevron was about to make Yukos into a formidable force whose interests would be lobbied in Washington.

He then began to lobby his business interests in parliament and began to sponsor opposition parties in a move that was quickly followed by his arrest.

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