Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Khodorkovsky in 2001
Born 26 June 1963 (1963-06-26) (age 48)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Nationality Russian
Ethnicity Jewish (father), Russian (mother was an Orthodox Christian)
Alma mater Mendeleev Russian University of Chemistry and Technology
Occupation Deputy Minister of Fuel and Energy of Russia (1993)
Chairman and CEO of Yukos (1997–2004)
Spouse Elena Dobrovolskaya (divorced), Inna Khodorkovskaya
Children 4
Khodorkovsky with then President of Russia Vladimir Putin on 20 December 2002

Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky (Russian: Михаи́л Бори́сович Ходорко́вский, IPA: [mʲɪxɐˈil xədɐˈrkofskʲɪj]; born 26 June 1963 in Moscow) is a Russian prisoner, considered by some - such as Amnesty International - to have been imprisoned for political reasons,[Amnesty International 1] jailed until 2016 and a former Russian oligarch[1][2] and businessman. In 2004, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia, and was 16th on Forbes list of billionaires, although much of his wealth evaporated because of the collapse in the value of his holding in the Russian petroleum company Yukos.[citation needed]

On 25 October 2003, Khodorkovsky was arrested at Novosibirsk airport by the Russian prosecutor general's office on charges of fraud.[citation needed] Shortly thereafter, on 31 October, the government under Vladimir Putin froze shares of Yukos because of tax charges. The Russian Government took further actions against Yukos, leading to a collapse in the share price. It purported to sell a major asset of Yukos in December 2004.[citation needed]

On 31 May 2005, Khodorkovsky was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to nine years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 8 years. In 2003, prior to his arrest, Khodorkovsky funded several Russian parties, including Yabloko, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and even, allegedly, the pro-Kremlin United Russia.[citation needed]

In October 2005 he was moved into prison camp number 13 in the city of Krasnokamensk, Zabaykalsky Krai.[citation needed]

In March 2006, Forbes magazine surmised that Khodorkovsky's personal fortune had declined to a fraction of its former level, stating that he "still has somewhere below $500 m."[3]

On 31 March 2009, a new trial of Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev began in Moscow for fresh charges on embezzlement and money laundering.[4] On 27 December 2010, a judge found both men guilty of the charges laid against them in 2009. In October, prosecutors asked for a 14 year sentence but indicated that it should include time already served. This would mean that Khodorkovsky and his partner could remain in jail until 2017; however, Khodorkovsky's defense have vowed to appeal the sentence.[5] Suggesting that the legal process was only 'gloss', a US diplomat has described his trial as 'lipstick on a political pig'.[6]

On 30 December 2010, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment in the second trial. This term includes the sentence from the first trial.[7][8]

Khodorkovsky appealed his convictions to the European Court of Human Rights. On 31 May 2011 the court ruled that Khodorkovsky failed to prove that his prosecution was politically motivated. The court ruled, however, that Russia committed serious violations of Khodorkovsky's rights during his arrest and pretrial detention.[9]


Early years and entrepreneurship in Soviet Union

Early life

Khodorkovsky grew up in an ordinary Soviet family in a two-room apartment in Moscow. He has a Jewish father and a Christian mother. The young Khodorkovsky was ambitious. He received excellent grades. He then attempted and succeeded in building a career as a communist functionary. He became deputy head of Komsomol (the Communist Youth League) at his university, the Mendeleev Moscow Institute of Chemistry and Technology, where he graduated in chemical engineering in 1986.[10] The Komsomol career was one of the ways to get into the ranks of communist apparatchiks and to achieve the highest possible living standard.[11]

After perestroika started, Khodorkovsky used his connections within the communist structures to gain a foothold in the developing free market. He used the help of some powerful people to start his business activities under the cover of Komsomol. Friendship with another Komsomol leader, Alexey Golubovich, helped him greatly in his further success, since Golubovich's parents held top positions in the State Bank of the USSR.[11] He acquired Yukos for $300 million.[12]

Café and trading

With partners from Komsomol, and technically operating under its authority, Khodorkovsky opened his first business in 1986, a private café; an enterprise made possible by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's programme of perestroika and glasnost. In 1987 they opened a "Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity of the Youth" (which eventually allowed him to found the bank Menatep[13]). In addition to importing and reselling computers, the "scientific" center was involved in trading a wide range of other products.

By 1988, he had built an import-export business with a turnover of 80 million rubles a year (about $10 million USD).

In 1992 he was appointed chairman of the Investment Promotion Fund of the fuel and power industry. He was appointed Deputy Minister of Fuel and Energy of Russia in March 1993 .


Armed with cash from his business operations, Khodorkovsky and his partners used their international connections to obtain a banking licence to create Bank Menatep in 1989. As one of Russia's first privately owned banks, Menatep expanded quickly, by using most of the deposits raised to finance Khodorkovsky's successful import-export operations.

Bank Menatep was also successful in forcing the government to award them the right to manage funds allocated for the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

In a prophetic statement of the time, Khodorkovsky is quoted as saying:[11]

Many years later I talked with people and asked them, why didn't you start doing the same thing? Why didn't you go into it? Because any head of an institute had more possibilities than I had, by an order of magnitude. They explained that they had all gone through the period when the same system was allowed. And then, at best, people were unable to succeed in their career and, at worst, found themselves in jail. They were all sure that would be the case this time, and that is why they did not go into it. And I" —Khodorkovsky lets out a big, broad laugh at the memory— "I did not remember this! I was too young! And I went for it.

Khodorkovsky's connections with Komsomol and CPSU structures would prove critical in his success.

Political ambitions

Khodorkovsky also became a philanthropist, whose efforts include the provision of internet-training centres for teachers, a forum for the discussion by journalists of reform and democracy, and the establishment of foundations which finance archaeological digs, cultural exchanges, summer camps for children and a boarding school for orphans.[14][15] Khodorkovsky's critics saw this as political posturing, in light of his funding of several political parties ahead of the elections for the State Duma to be held in late 2003.

He is openly critical of what he refers to as 'managed democracy' within Russia. Careful normally not to criticise the elected leadership, he says the military and security services exercise too much authority. He told The Times:

"It is the Singapore model, it is a term that people understand in Russia these days. It means that theoretically you have a free press, but in practice there is self-censorship. Theoretically you have courts; in practice the courts adopt decisions dictated from above. Theoretically there are civil rights enshrined in the constitution; in practice you are not able to exercise some of these rights."

Khordorkovsky promoted social programs through Yukos in regions where the company operated. One such program that was popular in Angarsk, "New Civilization" promoted student government for young adults. The scout program incorporated aspects of student government. Participants from throughout the country spent their holidays organizing student governed bodies at summer camps.[16]

Relationship to Vladmir Putin

In February, 2003, at a televised meeting at the Kremlin, Khodorkovsky argued with Putin, challenging him on questions of government corruption, and implying that top state officials were pocketing millions in bribes. Privately, Putin told Lord John Browne, the former head of BP, “I have eaten more dirt than I need to from that man.”[17]

Merging with Sibneft

In April 2003, Khodorkovsky announced that Yukos would merge with Sibneft, creating an oil company with reserves equal to those of Western petroleum multinationals. Khodorkovsky had been reported to be negotiating with ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco about them taking a large stake in Yukos. Sibneft was created in 1995, at the suggestion of Boris Berezovsky, comprising some of the most valuable assets of a state-owned oil company. In a controversial auction process, Berezovsky acquired 50% of the company at what most agree was a very low price.[citation needed]

When Berezovsky had a confrontation with Putin, and felt compelled to leave Russia for London (where he was granted asylum) he assigned his shares in Sibneft to Roman Abramovich. Abramovich subsequently agreed to the merger.

With 19.5 billion barrels (3 km³) of oil and gas, the merged entity would have owned the second-largest oil and gas reserves in the world after ExxonMobil and would have been the fourth largest in the world in terms of production, pumping 2.3 million barrels (370,000 m³) of crude a day. However, the merger had been recalled by the shareholders of Sibneft after the arrest of Khodorkovsky.


In early July 2003, Platon Lebedev, a Khodorkovsky partner and second largest shareholder in Yukos, was arrested on suspicion of illegally acquiring a stake in a state-owned fertilizer firm, Apatit, in 1994.[citation needed] The arrest was followed by investigations into taxation returns filed by Yukos, and a delay to the antitrust commission's approval for its merger with Sibneft.[citation needed]

Khodorkovsky was himself arrested in October 2003, charged with fraud and tax evasion. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office claims Khodorkovsky and his associates cost the state more than $1 billion in lost revenues.[citation needed]

Subsequent to Khodorkovsky's arrest, Leonid Nevzlin gained a controlling stake in Yukos when Khodorkovsky handed him a 60% share in the holding company that controlled the firm.[18] Nevzlin is himself now wanted in Russia and has since fled to Israel.[citation needed]

On 31 March 2009, a new trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev began in Moscow for fresh charges on embezzlement and money laundering. The two men face up to 22 more years in prison.[19] Khodorkovsky refused to enter a plea, claiming that he did not understand the charges.[20]

According to the sentence in the second trial,[21] the companies that extracted oil (such as Yuganskneftegaz and Tomskneft, in which Yukos held major stake, but did not have 100% ownership), would sell all their oil to different shell companies below market rates, and the shell companies would re-sell it to the eventual buyer at market rates. Shell companies, unlike oil-extracting companies, would be owned 100% by Khodorkovsky, Lebedev et al. Those shell companies had very few employees, conducted no other activity than reselling the oil, and some of them had offices in office buildings owned by Yukos. As a result, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were convicted of embezzlement from the oil companies and some of the oil companies' minority shareholders acted as witnesses for the prosecution during the trial.

In May 2010, Mikhail Kasyanov, who became an opposition figure after serving as Putin's prime minister from 2000 to 2004, told the court that Putin, while president, had been angered by Khodorkovsky's support of the Communist Party together with liberal Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces.[22]

Impact of arrest

Initially news of Khodorkovsky's arrest had a significant effect on the share price of Yukos. The Moscow stock market was closed for the first time ever for an hour in order to assure stable trading as prices collapsed. Russia's currency, the ruble, was also hit as some foreign investors questioned the stability of the Russian market. Media reaction in Moscow was almost universally negative in blanket coverage, some of the more enthusiastic pro-business press discussed the end of capitalism, while even the government-owned press criticised the "absurd" method of Khodorkovsky's arrest.

Yukos moved quickly to replace Khodorkovsky with Russian born U.S. citizen Simon Kukes. Simon Kukes, who became the CEO of Yukos, was already an experienced oil executive.

The U.S. State Department said the arrest "raised a number of concerns over the arbitrary use of the judicial system" and was likely to be very damaging to foreign investment in Russia, as it appeared there were "selective" prosecutions occurring against Yukos officials but not against others.

A week after the arrest, the Prosecutor-General froze Khodorkovsky's shares in Yukos to prevent Khodorkovsky from selling his shares although he retains all the shares' voting rights and to receive dividends.

Khodorkovsky's arrest alarmed foreign investors and policymakers alike.

In 2003 Khodorkovsky's shares in Yukos passed to Jacob Rothschild under a deal they concluded prior to Khodorkovsky's arrest.[23][24]

Criminal charges

The criminal charges against Khodorkovsky read as follows:

In 1994, while chairman of the board of the Menatep commercial bank in Moscow, M. B. Khodorkovsky created an organized group of individuals with the intention of taking control of the shares in Russian companies during the privatisation process through deceit and in the process of committing this crime managed the activities of this company.

Khodorkovsky was charged with acting illegally in the privatisation process of the former state-owned mining and fertiliser company Apatit. It is alleged that the CEO of Bank Menatep and large shareholder in Yukos Platon Lebedev assisted Khodorkovsky. Lebedev was arrested and charged in July 2003.

According to the prosecution, all four companies that participated in the privatization tender for 20% of Apatit's stock in 1994 were shell companies controlled by Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, registered to create an illusion of competitive bidding that was required by the law. One of the shell companies that won that tender (AOZT Volna) was supposed to invest about US$280 million in Apatit during the next year, according to their winning bid. The investment was not made and Apatit sued to return their 20% of stock. At this point, Khodorkovsky et al. had transferred the required sum into Apatit's account at Khodorkovsky's bank Menatep and sent the financial documents to the court, so Apatit's lawsuit was thrown out. The very next day the money was transferred back from Apatit's account to Volna's account. After that the stock was sold off by Volna in small installments to several smaller shell companies, which were, in turn, owned by more Khodorkovsky-owned companies in a complicated web of relationships. Literally dozens of companies were registered for these purposes in Cyprus, Isle of Man, British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos and other offshore havens. Volna actually settled the Apatit lawsuit in 2002 by paying $15 million to the privatization authorities, even though it did not own Apatit stock anymore at the time. However, according to the prosecution, that $15 million sum was based on the incorrect valuation which was too low. Allegedly, at the time Apatit was selling off the fertilizers it was producing to multiple Khodorkovsky-owned shell companies below market value, and, therefore, Apatit formally did not have much profit, lowering its valuation. Those shell companies then resold the fertilizer at the market value, generating pure profit for Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and others.

In addition, prosecutors conducted an extensive investigation into Yukos for offences that went beyond the financial and tax-related charges. Reportedly there were three cases of murder and one of attempted murder linked to Yukos, if not Khodorkovsky himself.

One area of interest to the Prosecutor-General included the 1998 assassination of the mayor of Nefteyugansk in the Tyumen region, Vladimir Petukhov. Nefteyugansk was the main centre of oil production within the Yukos empire. Suspicions arose in Nefteyugansk because Petukhov had publicly and frequently campaigned about Yukos' non-payment of local taxes.

President Putin himself commented on this aspect of the investigation while questioned about the investigation into Yukos in September 2003. President Putin said:

The case is about Yukos and the possible links of individuals to murders in the course of the merging and expansion of this company...the privatizations are the least of the reasons for it...in such a case, how can I interfere with prosecutors' work?

The verdict of the trial, repeating the prosecutors' indictments almost verbatim, was 662 pages long. As is customary in Russian trials, the judges read the verdict aloud, beginning on 16 May 2005 and finishing on 31 May. Khodorkovsky's lawyers alleged that it was read as slowly as possible to minimize public attention*.[25]

Khodorkovsky was defended by Karinna Moskalenko, who now faces being disbarred by the Russian government for her alleged negligence in defending him. Khodorkovsky denies being dissatisfied with her conduct.

Prosecutors stated that they operated independently of the government appointed by President Putin. The Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov was appointed by former President Yeltsin and was not seen as being particularly close to Putin, who once tried to remove him. However, he was politically ambitious and prosecuting Russia's most prominent and successful tycoon was perceived as a boost to his political career and intended candidacy for the Duma.

Judicial controversy

On 14 February 2011, Natalya Vasilyeva, an assistant to the judge who convicted Khodorkovsky, Viktor Danilkin, said that the judge did not write the verdict, and had read it against his will.[26] Essentially, Natalya Vasilyeva said the judge's verdict was "brought from the Moscow City Court".[27] In her statement she also noted that "everyone in the judicial community understands perfectly that this is a rigged case, a fixed trial".[27] On 24 February Ms. Vasilyeva underwent a polygraph test, which indicated that she likely believes that Mr. Danilkin acted under pressure.[28] Judge Danilkin responded that "the assertion by Natalya Vasilyeva was nothing more than slander".[29]

Third party support

Khodorkovsky has received a high level of independent third party support from groups and individuals who believe the process, charges, and two trials against him are politically motivated.[30] On 29 Nov. 2004, The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights published a report which concluded "the Assembly considers that the circumstances of the arrest and prosecution of leading Yukos executives suggest that the interest of the State’s action in these cases goes beyond the mere pursuit of criminal justice, to include such elements as to weaken an outspoken political opponent, to intimidate other wealthy individuals and to regain control of strategic economic assets."[31]

In June 2009 the Council of Europe published a report which criticized the Russian government's handling of the Yukos case, entitled "Allegations of Politically Motivated Abuses of the Criminal Justice System in Council of Europe Member States"[32]

"The Yukos affair epitomises this authoritarian abuse of the system. I wish to recall here the excellent work done by Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, in her two reports2 on this subject. I do not intend to comment on the ins and outs of this case which saw Yukos, a privately owned oil company, made bankrupt and broken up for the benefit of the state owned company Rosneft. The assets were bought at auction by a rather obscure financial group, Baikalfinansgroup, for almost €7 billion. It is still not known who is behind this financial group. A number of experts believe that the state-owned company Gazprom had a hand in the matter. The former heads of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, were sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for fraud and tax evasion. Vasiliy Aleksanyan, former vice-chairman of the company, who is suffering from Aids, was released on bail in January 2009 after being held in inhuman conditions condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.3 Lastly, Svetlana Bakhmina, deputy head of Yukos’s legal department, who was sentenced in 2005 to six and a half years’ imprisonment for tax fraud, saw her application for early release turned down in October 2008, even though she had served half of her sentence, had expressed “remorse” and was seven months pregnant. Thanks to the support of thousands of people around the world and the personal intervention of the United States President, George W. Bush, she was released in April 2009 after giving birth to a girl on 28 November 2008."

Statements of support for Khodorkovsky and criticism of the state's persecution have been passed by the Italian Parliament, the German Bundestag, and the U.S. House of Representatives, among many other official bodies.[33]

In June 2010, Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel began a campaign to raise awareness of the Khodorkovsky trial and advocate for his release.[34]

In November 2010, Amnesty International Germany began a petition campaign demanding that President Medvedev get an independent review of all criminal charges against Khodorkovsky, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights.[35] On 24 May 2011, Amnesty International criticized Lebedev and Khodorkovsky's second trial, named them prisoners of conscience, and called for their release on the expiry of their initial sentences.[36]

[[Elena Bonner, widow of Andrei Sakharov, has continued to defend Khodorkhovsky. "I think that any person comes a political prisoner if the law is applied to him selectively, and this is an absolutely clear case,. This is a glaringly lawless action. [37]

In prison

On 30 May 2005, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 9 years in a medium security prison. At the time, he was detained in Moscow prison Matrosskaya Tishina.

On 1 August 2005, a political essay written by Khodorkovsky in his prison cell, titled "Left Turn", was published in Vedomosti, calling for a turn to more social responsible state. He stated that: "The next Russian administration will have to include the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Motherland Party, or the historical successors to these parties. The left-wing liberals, including Yabloko, and right-wing Ryzhkov, Khakamada and others should decide whether to join the broad social-democratic coalition or to remain grumpy and without relevance on the political sidelines. In my opinion, they have to join because only the broadest composition of a coalition in which liberal-socialist (social-democratic) views will play the key role can save us from the emergence, in the process of this turn to the left turn, from a new ultra-authoritarian regime. The new Russian authorities will have to address a left-wing agenda and meet an irrepressible demand by the people for justice. This will mean in the first instance the problems of legalizing privatization and restoring paternalistic programs and approaches in several areas."[38]

On 19 August 2005, Khodorkovsky announced that he was on a hunger strike in protest at his friend and associate Platon Lebedev's placement in the punishment cell of the jail. According to Khodorkovsky, Lebedev had Diabetes mellitus and heart conditions, and keeping him in the punishment cell would be equivalent to murder.

On 31 August 2005, he announced that he would run for parliament.[39] This initiative was based on the legal loophole: a convicted felon cannot vote or stand for a parliament, but if his case is lodged with the Court of Appeal he still has all the electoral rights. This "loophole," or alternatively, ordinary provision of appellate procedure, is a common practice in US federal and state court. Usually it requires around a year to get somebody's appeal through the Appeal Court, so it should have been enough time for Khodorkovsky to be elected. To imprison a member of Russian parliament, the parliament should vote for stripping his or her immunity. Thus, he had a hope to escape from his prosecution. But the plans were flawed, as the Court of Appeal unusually took only a couple of weeks to process Khodorkovsky's appeal, reduce his sentence by one year and invalidate any of his electoral plans until the end of his sentence.

As reported on 20 October 2005, Khodorkovsky was delivered to the labor camp YaG-14/10 (Исправительное учреждение общего режима ЯГ-14/10) of the town of Krasnokamensk near Chita.[40] The labor camp is attached to a uranium mining and processing plant and during Soviet times had a reputation as a place from which nobody returned alive.[citation needed] According to news reports, currently the prisoners are not used in uranium mining and have much better chances of survival than in the past. The second part of Khodorkovsky essay/thesis "Left Turn" was published in Kommersant on 11 November 2005, in which he expounded his social democratic manifesto.[41]

On 13 April 2006, Khodorkovsky was attacked by a prison mate while he was asleep. It was speculated that a prison mate tried to disfigure his face but not to kill him. Jail sources told reporters that a fellow prisoner Alexander Kuchma attacked him after a heated conversation. Western media immediately accused the Russian authorities of trying to play down the incident. In January 2009, the same prisoner filed a lawsuit for 500,000 rubles (~$15,000) against Khodorkovsky, accusing him of homosexual harassment.[42]

On 5 February 2007, new charges of embezzlement and money laundering were brought against both Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.[43] Khodorkovsky's supporters point out that the charges come just months before Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were to become eligible for parole, as well as just a year before the next Russian presidential election.[citation needed]

On 28 January 2008, Khodorkovsky started a hunger strike[44] to help his associate Vasily Aleksanyan, who is ill and was held in jail and who was denied the necessary medical treatment. Aleksanyan was transferred from a pre-trial prison to an oncological hospital on 8 February 2008,[45] after which Khodorkovsky called off his strike.[46]

While Khodorkovsky was imprisoned, Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer, wrote his latest symphony, Symphony no. 4, and dedicated it to Mikhail. The symphony was premiered on 10 January 2009 in Los Angeles at Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

In prison, Khodorkovsky announced that he would research for, and prepare, a PhD dissertation on the topic of Russian oil policy.[citation needed] The third part of Khodorkovsky's essay/thesis "Left Turn" with the subheading "Global Perestroika" was published in Vedomosti on 7 November 2008, in which he stated: "Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential elections is not simply the latest change of power in one individual country, albeit a superpower. We are standing on the threshold of a change in the paradigm of world development. The era whose foundations were laid by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher three decades ago is ending. Unconditionally including myself in that part of society that has liberal views, I see: ahead – is a Turn to the Left."[47][48]

In May 2010 Khodorkovsky went on a three-day hunger-strike to protest what he said was a violation of the recent law against imprisonment of person accused of financial crimes. The law was pushed by President Medvedev after the death of Sergei Magnitsky who died in pre-trial detention in a Moscow prison in 2008.[49]

Political transformation

After six years in prison, observers have argued that Khodorkovsky has been transformed from an oligarch into a martyr: "He speaks with the authority of a chief executive of what was once Russia’s largest oil company. He explains how Yukos and Russia’s oil industry functioned, but he goes beyond business matters. What he is defending is not his long-lost business, but his human rights. The transformation of Mr. Khodorkovsky from a ruthless oligarch, operating in a virtually lawless climate, into a political prisoner and freedom fighter is one of the more intriguing tales in post-communist Russia."[50]

The political transformation of Khodorkovsky is cited in many of his writings from prison. On 26 October 2009, he published a response to Dmitri Medvedev's "Forward, Russia!" article in Vedomosti, arguing that "authoritarianism in its current Russian form does not meet many key humanitarian requirements customary for any country that wishes to consider itself modern and European."[51]

On 28 January 2010, Khodorkovsky authored an opinion article in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, which argued that "Russia must make a historic choice. Either we turn back from the dead end toward which we have been heading in recent years – and we do it soon – or else we continue in this direction and Russia in its current form simply ceases to exist."[52]

On 3 March 2010, Khodorkovsky wrote an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta about the "conveyor belt" of Russian justice. In this article, he warns that "siloviki conveyor belt, which has undermined justice is truly the gravedigger of modern Russian statehood. Because it turns many thousands of the country's most active, sensible and independent citizens against this statehood – with enviable regularity."[53]

Release date

According to his official site, Khodorkovsky would have been eligible for early release, but an alleged conspiracy involving jail guards and a cell mate resulted in a statement that Mikhail had violated one of the prison rules. The statement was false,[citation needed] but it was sufficient to make Khodorkovsky lose his rights, once the statement was logged in his file.[54]

It is predicted that he might be released by the middle of 2011,[55] although Khodorkovsky has been found guilty (27 December 2010) of fresh charges of embezzlement and money laundering, which could lead to a new sentence of up to 22 years. He alleged that both cases were instigated by Igor Sechin. “The second as well as the first case were organized by Igor Sechin,” the tycoon claimed in an interview with The Sunday Times from a remand prison in the Siberian city of Chita, 4,000 miles (6,400 km) east of Moscow.[54]

On 22 August 2008, he was denied parole by Judge Igor Faliliyev, at the Ingodinsky regional court in Chita, Siberia. The basis for this was in part because Khodorkovsky "refused to attend jail sewing classes".[56]

In the second trial, the prosecutors have asked the judge for a 14-year sentence, which is just one year less than the maximum. The judge Danilkin handed down the verdict on 30 December 2010 where he upheld the prosecutors' claims. Taking into account the time already served, Khodorkovsky will be released in 2017.[7][8] U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. State Department, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Minister William Hague condemned or expressed concern over Khodorkovsky's extended sentence. The White House said it brought Russia's legal system into question.[57][58][59]

On 15 February Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of Russia's Supreme Court, suggested reviving an old Soviet practice under which a maximum sentence for a person charged with different crimes should not exceed the sentence attached to the most serious charge: in Mr. Khodorkovsky's case, nine years.[27] Since he has been in jail since October 2003, this would mean releasing him in October 2012 – a few months after the next presidential election.[27]

Outcome of Second Trial

Khodorkovsky became eligible for parole after having served half of his original sentence, however, in February 2007, state prosecutors began to prepare new charges of embezzlement, leading up to a second trial which began in March 2009. Prosecutors filed new charges against Khodorkovsky, alleging that he stole 350 million tons of oil, charges which Kommersant described as "Compared with the previous version, only stylistic inaccuracy has been improved, and some of the paragraphs have been swapped."[60] Others pointed out that the new charges were impossible given that he was previously convicted on tax evasion of the same allegedly stolen oil. According to Khodorkovsky's lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, "The position of the prosecutors is also self-contradictory. (...) Khodorkovsky is now serving a sentence for tax evasion, and if they are asserting that he stole all the oil his company produced, what did he go to prison for the first time if there was nothing to be taxed?"[61]

During a visit to Moscow in July 2009, President Barack Obama said: "it does seem odd to me that these new charges, which appear to be a repackaging of the old charges, should be surfacing now, years after these two individuals have been in prison and as they become eligible for parole."[62]

The verdict was originally scheduled for 15 December, but was delayed without explanation until the 27th.[63] Just a few days before the verdict was read by the judge before the court, Vladimir Putin made public comments with regard to his opinion of Khodorkovsky's guilty, saying "a thief should sit in jail."[64] On 27 December 2010 Judge Viktor Danilkin handed down a guilty verdict, convicting Khodorkovsky and Lebedev of stealing the full 350 million tons of oil, instead of the reduced 218 million tons as requested by the prosecutors. The judge sentenced them to 13.5 years in prison, later reduced to 12 years, one year less than the maximum sentence, which, when combined with time already served, will keep them in jail until 2017.

On 24 May 2011, Khodorkovsky's appeal hearing was held, and Judge Danilkin rejected the challenge.[65] Following the rejection of the appeal, the human rights group Amnesty International declared Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as "prisoners of conscience," remarking in a statement that "Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev’s first convictions there can no longer be any doubt that their second trial was deeply flawed and politically motivated."[66]

In June 2011, Khodorkovsky was sent to prison colony No. 9 of Segezha, in the northern region of Karelia near the Finnish border.[67]

Final Words from Second Trial

On 2 November 2010, Mikhail Khodorkovsky delivered his final words to the court in the closing of the second trial. The speech, which has received significant media coverage, included the following passages:[68]

I am ashamed for my country.
Your honour, I think we all perfectly understand the significance of our trial extends far beyond the fates of Platon [Lebedev] and myself. And even beyond the fates of all those who have innocently suffered in the course of the reprisals against YUKOS that have taken place on such a huge scale, those I found myself unable to protect, but about whom I have not forgotten. I remember every day.
Let’s ask ourselves, what does the entrepreneur, the top class organizer of production, or simply an educated, creative individual, think today looking at our trial and knowing that the result is absolutely predictable?
The obvious conclusion a thinking person would come to is chilling in its simplicity: the bureaucratic and law enforcement machine can do whatever it wants. There is no right of private property. No person who conflicts with the “system” has any rights whatsoever.
Even when enshrined in law, rights are not protected by the courts. Because the courts are either also afraid, or are part of the “system”. Does it come as a surprise that thinking people do not strive to realize themselves here in Russia?

He continued:

I am far from being an ideal person, but I am a person with an idea. For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in prison, and I do not want to die here.
But if I have to, I will have no hesitation. What I believe in is worth dying for. I think I have shown this.

In response to Khodorkovsky's speech, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote,[69] "I have never been so moved by the words of a businessman. (...) It should make no difference that he was once rich and once an oligarch. What matters is that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is fighting for political freedom and the rule of law, putting his life on the line for ideals we claim to hold dear."

Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl argued[70] that "Khodorkovsky delivered what is likely to stand as a historic indictment of the Putin-Medvedev regime. (...) Because he is an entrepreneur and not a poet, Khodorkovsky was regarded skeptically for many years by the sort of people who usually defend Russian dissidents. That's no longer true: Elie Wiesel is campaigning for him; Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and French philosopher André Glucksmann have taken up his case. The U.S. Senate, prompted by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin and Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, passed a resolution saying Khodorkovsy and Lebedev 'are prisoners who have been denied basic due process rights under international law for political reasons.'"

Three weeks after the trial ended, Khodorkovsky managed to make his voice heard again, something he did, embarrassingly for the Kremlin, just as Dmitri Medvedev was giving the keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asking for more foreign investment for Russia. A "dependent court is in no way better than a bandit’s club", stated Khodorkovsky. "Both tools are equally unacceptable for settling grievances in a civilized society." His lawyers had "invited four newspapers, including the IHT, to submit written questions to him after the second trial. The questions were given to him on 31 Dec., and the replies were delivered" in late January 2011. “I call on people to believe in the sincerity of President Medvedev’s attempts," Khodorkovsky added, "but not to accept desires and simulations in the place of clearly defined obligations and working institutions.”[71][72]

See also

  • Leonid Nevzlin (one of the key figures in the Yukos oil firm headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky)


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