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US Criticizes Russian Court's Guilty Ruling on Khodorkovsky

Supporters of Mikhail Khodorkovsky hold his portrait outside a court room in Moscow, 27 Dec 2010
Supporters of Mikhail Khodorkovsky hold his portrait outside a court room in Moscow, 27 Dec 2010

The United States on Monday criticized a Russian court's decision to find jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev guilty of embezzlement and money laundering.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the new charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev raise serious questions "about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations" in Russia.

Both defendants have denied the charges, saying they were framed for supporting opposition candidates and critics of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was president at the time of Khodorkovsky's 2003 arrest.

A spokesman for European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Monday the EU is monitoring the process, including the expected sentencing. The spokesman called on Russia to respect human rights and the rule of law.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, and Lebedev were accused of embezzling oil and laundering $27 billion in proceeds during a six-year period. They have yet to be sentenced.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are nearing the end of 8-year prison terms for fraud and tax evasion. Defense lawyers say they will appeal the new verdicts.

Defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said Monday the verdict was unjust. He said he believes the court was pressured into reaching its verdict rather than making an independent decision.

Defense witnesses, including a former Russian prime minister, said the charges were a politically motivated pretext to keep the two imprisoned.

Mikhail Kasyanov, President Putin's prime minister from 2000 to 2004, testified earlier this year that the Kremlin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest because he angered Mr. Putin by funding opposition parties.

Police detained 12 supporters of the defendants from a crowd demonstrating outside the Moscow court Monday as the verdict was being read.