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Russia rejects criticism of trial

West condemned tycoon conviction

By Lynn Berry
Associated Press / December 29, 2010

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday fired back at US and European criticism of the second conviction of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, telling Western leaders to mind their own business.

Khodorkovsky, a billionaire oligarch who posed a challenge to Vladimir Putin early in his presidency, was convicted Monday of stealing oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a chorus of political figures in the United States and Europe in condemning the ruling, saying that it raised “serious questions about selective prosecution and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations.’’

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the assertions were unfounded and accused the West of trying to put pressure on the court.

“We expect everyone to mind their own business — at home and in the international arena,’’ the ministry statement said.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden was undeterred by the Russian warning, writing in a blog post yesterday that the ruling against Khodorkovsky “makes it difficult to liberate oneself from the suspicion that the verdict was steered by political dictate rather than by judicial balance.’’

The sentence, expected to be announced before the end of the week, is likely to keep Khodorkovsky behind bars for several more years.

The judge yesterday continued to read his verdict, a lengthy summary of the 20-month trial.

The street in front of the courthouse was blocked by police to prevent a repeat of Monday’s protest, when a few hundred demonstrators chanted “Freedom!’’ and “Down with Putin!’’ at times drowning out the reading of the verdict.

Judge Vladimir Danilkin has been reading in a low monotone and so quickly that even Khodorkovsky’s lawyers who were sitting directly in front of him say they have had trouble understanding.

Khodorkovsky’s lead lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, told reporters at the end of yesterday’s session that the verdict has made little sense.

“Well, I don’t know, it might be my personal peculiarities of perception, but, first, it is very difficult to understand what is being uttered, and second, when you do manage to capture something, it is difficult to understand its logic, let alone any grounds for an honest and just assessment.’’

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