Russian tycoon conviction angers West

THE White House has joined European criticism of the conviction of jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on new fraud charges, calling the action a “selective application of justice”.

Khodorkovsky and co-accused Platon Lebedev, already in prison on previous fraud charges, were convicted on embezzlement and money laundering charges that the head of the now-defunct Yukos oil giant insists were politically motivated by his support for Russia’s opposition.

“We are deeply concerned that a Russian judge today has indicated that for a second time Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev will be convicted,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

“We are troubled by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends.

“The apparent selective application of the law to these individuals undermines Russia’s reputation as a country committed to deepening the rule of law.”

Germany led European criticism of the conviction, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying he was “very worried” by the verdict and calling it a “step backward” for Russia.

“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.”

The European Union warned it would be following the later announcement of Khodorkovsky’s sentence while the head of the European Parliament said the verdict pointed to “systemic problems” with Russia’s legal system.

“The European Union will continue to follow developments very closely, including the forthcoming announcement of the sentence,” chief European Union diplomat Catherine Ashton said.

“As emphasised at the recent summit that took place on 7 December in Brussels, the EU expects Russia to respect its international commitments in the field of human rights and the rule of law.”

European Parliament head Jerzy Buzek said Khodorkovsky’s case “has become an emblematic symbol of the systemic problems of the rule of law, legal nihilism and human rights in today’s Russia.”

France also said it would continue to follow the process and urged Moscow to follow through on promises of legal reform.

“As President Dmitry Medvedev himself has stressed, consolidation of the rule of law is a necessary condition for the success of Russia’s process of modernisation,” French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said when asked about the verdict.

Britain said in a more muted reaction that it would stress to Russia that the law should be applied in a “non-discriminatory and proportional way”.

The Foreign Office said it had been “watching the trial closely” and welcomed Medvedev’s “focus on the need to strengthen the rule of law in Russia”.

“We believe that Russia’s people, and Russia’s future, are best served by a judicial system properly independent of government or other outside interference; a system which administers justice consistently, transparently and objectively,” a statement said.

But a senior lawmaker in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party warned that the verdict risked damaging trade links between Britain and Russia.

“I think we have got to make the point pretty forcefully that if they expect a good trading relationship between the two countries, we want to see a rule of law and a commercial code that we can all understand and follow,” Richard Ottaway, who chairs the influential foreign affairs select committee, told BBC radio.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky’s release on his first conviction was scheduled for next year, but then he was put on trial last year on charges of money laundering and embezzlement, deemed trumped up by defenders.

It was not clear in Moscow when the final sentence would be delivered.

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