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Russia Rejects US, European Criticism of Khodorkovsky Conviction

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, center, and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev, right, are escorted to a court room in Moscow, 27 Dec 2010
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, center, and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev, right, are escorted to a court room in Moscow, 27 Dec 2010

The Russian government has lashed out at U.S. and European governments over Western criticism of the conviction of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Judge Victor Danilkin on Monday found Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev guilty of stealing and laundering billions of dollars of oil revenues.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement condemning the verdict.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday that there was no justification for American and European criticism given the charges against the defendants.

Alexei Sazanov, a representative of the ministry read out the statement for VOA. He said that in the case of former Head of the Yukos oil company MIkhail Khodorkovsky and the former Director of Menatep, Platon Lebedev, we are talking about serious allegations of tax-evasion and profit-laundering. Sazanov said in any country such crimes are punishable by law.

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The statement was met with derision from Khodorkovsky's defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant. He accused the Foreign Ministry of incompetence because it cited the allegations Khodorkovsky and Lebedev faced in their first trial.

"I don't know if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is lying intentionally or that it does not know that the current allegations are not only different but are also completely contradictory to the previous allegations of the previous case," he said.

The two men are currently serving eight-year sentences handed down when they were found guilty of tax evasion in 2005.

The pair were due to be released next year, but they are now likely to spend several more years behind bars. The conviction for embezzlement of billions of dollars worth of oil from Khodorkovsky's own company Yukos could prolong their imprisonment by up to 10 years.

Many critics in the West, however, view both cases as politically motivated. The statement of concern issued by Clinton and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle reflect a shared mistrust of Russia's judiciary.

Political analyst Mikhail Troitsky said that it is unclear yet how far the statements of condemnation would damage Russia's relations with the United States. "A decision will be made whether the United States is going to act on that or that's going to be a verbal exchange with little impact on the material side of U.S.-Russia relations," he said.

Troitsy also said that the full impact of the verdict for Russia's relations with other countries will not be known until the sentence is announced in full.