Putin Backs Review of Guilty Verdicts Against Khodorkovsky

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin supported outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for a review of guilty verdicts against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s wealthiest man, who has called himself a political prisoner.

“I think it’s right,” Putin, who won the March 4 presidential election, told reporters today in Moscow. “If people have some doubts, the president should respect that,” he said, referring to a Medvedev’s human rights commission that last year advised overturning the verdict.

Khodorkovsky was arrested at gunpoint on the tarmac of a Siberian airport in 2003 on charges of fraud and tax evasion in what he called retribution for political opposition to Putin, who was then president. The Kremlin denied that. The U.S. and European Union have said a second wave of charges that extended Khodorkovsky’s sentence to 13 years showed a failure to respect the rule of law that was harmful to the investment climate.

“Putin as a pragmatic man probably understands it’s better not to keep Khodorkovsky jailed anymore,” Yuri Schmidt, a lawyer for Khodorkovsky, said by phone. “But his public words mean nothing until we see some real actions.”

Khodorkovsky had built Yukos Oil Co. into the country’s largest oil producer by market value before it was bankrupted over $30 billion of tax claims and sold off. Putin today referred to the European Court of Human Rights’ failure last year to find political motivation in the Yukos tax case.

Not Dangerous

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has until April 1 to review the cases against Khodorkovsky, 48, and his business partner Platon Lebedev, as well as 30 other people, the Kremlin press service said March 5. Medvedev, a former corporate lawyer who promised to improve the rule of law and attract foreign investment, has said freeing Khodorkovsky wouldn’t be dangerous.

Those seeking to free Khodorkovsky and Lebedev should follow set legal procedures, Putin said today. In December last year, Putin said Khodorkovsky would have to petition for pardon and “effectively admit his guilt” to be freed.

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