Monday, December 27, 2010

Well we saw that...and that...coming (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 10:48 a.m. Reaction from Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyers is starting to come in. Needless to say, they are unhappy with the guilty verdict which they see as having political overtones:
Khodorkovsky's lawyers said the comments in a Dec. 16 television appearance were designed to exert influence in the case, which has accentuated a sense of personal rivalry between Putin and a business mogul who was once Russia's richest man.
"What we are hearing leaves us no doubt that pressure was put on the court — that the court was not free when adopting this decision," lead defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said during a brief break in Danilkin's rushed verdict reading.
Medvedev signaled his disapproval of Putin's comments, saying in a nationally televised interview on Friday that no official had the right to comment before a verdict was reached. Putin said later he was referring to Khodorkovsky's first conviction.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has posted video from inside and outside the courtroom. The contrast between a smiling Khodorkovsky and the angry protesters is striking.

The Guardian also reports that Khodorkovsky's guilty verdict is a sign that political opponents of Prime Minister Putin continue to pay a high price:
There was never going to be any other result. In modern-day Russia, challenging Putin is like standing in front of a tank. Either get out of the way or expect – sooner or later – to be flattened.
Whatever else he is, Putin is implacable, relentless and unpitying when dealing with perceived enemies. In this, he follows a long-established Russian leadership tradition, and the public seems to like it, affording him approval ratings of 70% or above.
But the lengths (and depths) to which the former KGB spy appears ready to go have fuelled claims, such as those publicised by WikiLeaks, that Russia has become a corrupt "mafia state" under his tutelage.
I don't believe President Obama has yet to weigh in on today's verdict; considering the time difference between the East coast and Hawaii that is not surprising. But it will be important to read what the president says especially because of his high-profile "reset" attempts at the beginning of his term.

ORIGINAL POST: To the surprise of no one, a Russian court has found Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner guilty of embezzlement. As Reuters notes:

Reading the verdict in the politically charged trial of a chief Kremlin foe, judge Viktor Danilkin said the court had established that Khodorkovsky and [Platon] Lebedev “carried out the embezzlement of property entrusted to the defendants.”
Enclosed in a glass-and-steel courtroom cage, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev pointed ignored the judge as he read out the widely expect guilty verdict, whispering to one another and reading books and documents.

A crowd of a few hundred supporters outside the courthouse chanted “Freedom!”.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and head of its biggest oil producer, is nearing the end of an eight-year sentence imposed in a fraud and tax-evasion trial that shaped Vladimir Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency.
Just how much more time the pair will spend behind bars is unclear, though it certainly will be many years.Keep in mind that Khodorkovsky ran afoul of Putin largely because he supported Putin's political opponents in the late 1990s.

For a detailed background on Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, consider accessing a Website created by their supporters.

One Russian newspaper says that the political pressure placed on the judge was evident. According to this report:
Meanwhile, a law enforcement source told Russian online newspaper on December 26 he believed the Federal Security Service (FSB) was putting pressure on the judge, Viktor Danilkin. The source said bailiffs who usually provided security at the court had been replaced with plainclothes law enforcement agents. According to the source, the agents had visited Danilkin at his home and driven him to the court building on December 25.
And at least one human-rights organization already has declared the convictions of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev a political act.

Meanwhile, at least one-dozen Khodorkovsky supporters were arrested outside the Moscow court where the verdicts were read. Additional protests are expected, and the expectation is that they will be declared illegal by the government thus paving the way for more arrests. 

The West is sure to criticize the verdict and the subsequent arrests of protesters as a sign that Russia remains too slow to accept its standards of justice and freedom. One can expect that those words will fall on deaf ears.

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