Europe

Prosecutors reject Khodorkovsky sentence allegation

  • 14 June 2011
  • From the section Europe
Mikhail Khodorkovsky (right) in a Moscow courtroom, 2 June
Khodorkovsky appeared as a witness at another trial in Moscow this month

Russian prosecutors have denied that senior judges intervened to increase the latest sentence given to former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In February, an ex-court aide said the trial judge had already printed a verdict giving Khodorkovsky 10 years when he was told to make it 14.

But investigators ruled a document said to be the original verdict was not proof of interference.

Khodorkovsky was convicted of fraud at a trial widely criticised abroad.

The former head of oil firm Yukos, who was once Russia's richest man, is now not due for release from prison until 2016.

He and fellow defendant Platon Lebedev have been in custody since 2003, having been convicted of fraud and tax evasion at their first trial in 2005.

Former court aide Natalya Vasilyeva's allegation of pressure on the sentencing judge reinforced suspicions that his conviction had been a case of political revenge for defying the Kremlin by backing opposition politicians.

'Guesses and suppositions'

Judge Viktor Danilkin convicted Khodorkovsky in December of embezzlement and money laundering, and sentenced him to 14 years in prison - reduced to 13 on appeal.

The term is running concurrently with the eight-year sentence he received at his first trial, which will expire shortly.

Ms Vasilyeva said in a detailed interview that the judge had been put under pressure from his superiors - an allegation Mr Danilkin himself rejected.

Judge Viktor Danilkin reading out his verdict in a Moscow court, 27 December 2010
Judge Viktor Danilkin took several days to read out the verdict

He had begun writing his sentence but it did not please his superiors, she told Russia's gazeta.ru newspaper.

"As a result he received a different verdict which he was obliged to read out," she said.

"I know for a fact that the sentence was brought from the Moscow City Court."

Prosecutors questioned Ms Vasilyeva on Tuesday, then issued a statement saying the inquiry had shown her allegations "were not confirmed by any objective evidence and were based only on guesses and suppositions".

She said after questioning that she stood by her allegations, Russia's Interfax news agency reports.

She also made public what she says are the final three pages of Mr Danilkin's draft verdict, a lengthy summary of the trial that concludes with a sentence of 10 years.

A line is drawn through the pages as if by someone who did not approve of the text.

The authenticity of the document could not be verified.

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