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Russia rejects criticism of Khodorkovsky ruling (Reuters)
Published at 31 December 2010, 15:00 GMT

Jailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in the defendants' cage during a court session in Moscow December 30, 2010. REUTERS/Denis SinyakovReuters - Russia rejected on Friday criticism by the West of a ruling to keep jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in prison until late 2017, saying foreign states had no right to try to influence Russian courts.


Western countries, including the United States and Germany, sharply criticized a Moscow judge's decision on Thursday to keep Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, in jail for six more years on top of an eight-year term dating from October 2003.

"The opinions expressed there (abroad) should not in any way influence the decisions of the courts in the Russian Federation," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, according to a spokesman.

The United States said it was concerned that the Russian legal system had been abused and one senior official in President Barack Obama's administration said the verdict would complicate Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Lavrov said Russian courts were completely independent and would never bow to pressure from foreign countries, a clear swipe at Russia's Cold War foe.

"They (the courts) are both independent from Russian and foreign authorities. If this sentence seriously concerns anyone then I would like to remind them that every convict has the right to appeal," Lavrov said.

A lawyer for Khodorkovsky said on Friday she had filed an appeal against the conviction, which his defense lawyers say was undermined by a host of procedural violations.

Khodorkovsky was due to be released in October 2011, just months before the March 2012 presidential election. His 14 year sentence now means he would be released in late 2017, when he will be 54.

Khodorkovsky built a fortune by buying state assets cheaply following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union but fell foul of the Kremlin during Vladimir Putin's first term as president and was arrested in 2003 by armed security service agents.

President Dmitry Medvedev has pledged to clean up Russia's judicial system and some investors were hoping that a more lenient sentence could indicate that the Kremlin chief's vows to reform Russia may be more than mere rhetoric.

But investors said the conviction of Khodorkovsky at his second trial had again underlined that Putin—who has compared the fallen tycoon to U.S. gangster Al Capone—remains Russia's paramount leader.

Khodorkovsky, once cast as a robber baron by minority shareholders before improving corporate governance as his YUKOS oil empire, has always denied his guilt.

He says he is a victim of corrupt officials under Putin who wanted to carve up his business empire, which produced more oil than OPEC member Qatar. The government says he was prosecuted according to the law for his misdeeds and sentenced fairly.
Guy Faulconbridge
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