Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed Russian oil tycoon, is to stay behind bars until 2017 after a court in Moscow issued its maximum possible punishment on charges of theft and money laundering on Thursday, in a trial widely condemned as a farce.
Judge Viktor Danilkin sentenced Khodorkovsky, 47, and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, 54, to 14 years in a penal colony, including time already served, meaning the pair will not be free for seven more years.
The two men smiled ironically on hearing the sentence, while Khodorkovsky’s mother called out: “Damn you and your descendants!” to Danilkin, according to people in the room.
The businessmen were found guilty earlier this week, in a verdict that drew criticism from around the world.
Critics say former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered the legal charge against Khodorkovksy because he was creating a political power base that threatened parties supporting the Kremlin.
The oil magnate was first arrested on a Siberian runway in 2003, and sentenced to eight years in jail for fraud and tax evasion in 2005. A second trial began last year.
“This an outrageous sentence which is completely without justice. It was issued under pressure from the executors of power, at the head of which stands Mr Putin,” said Yury Shmidt, one of Khodorkovksy’s lawyers outside Khamovniki district court.
The sentence dashed hopes that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev might press behind the scenes for a more lenient sentence.
“If the president is serious when he speaks about political modernization and sincerely believes in such, he must interfere because this sentence nullifies every word the president has said on the subject before,” Yabloko Party leader Sergei Mitrokhin said.
Khodorkovsky grew up in a modest Moscow family and was among the first wave of oligarchs — politically connected businessmen who made their fortunes during Russia’s turbulent first decade after the Soviet collapse.
Like many entrepreneurs of the time, he built up his fortune through a series of opaque privatizations, later transforming his Yukos oil firm into one of the most transparent and efficient in the country, but he fell out with Putin over his support for liberal parties and his desire to promote privately funded oil pipelines.
Vadim Klyuvgant, Khodorkovsky’s lead lawyer, called the verdict and sentence a “criminal reprisal” and promised to pursue an appeal.
He also read out a cryptic note from his client to a scrum of reporters outside the court.
“Platon Leonidovich [Lebedev] and I have shown by our example: Don’t hope to find a defense in the courts from the lawlessness of bureaucrats,” Khodorkovsky wrote, adding: “Churov’s rule is alive and well.”
Vladimir Churov is the chairman of Russia’s central election commission who once reportedly said: “Churov’s first rule is that Putin is always right.”
The sentence was not unexpected. Khodorkovsky’s mother, Marina, 77, had said: “I get the impression the judge was put under a great deal of pressure. I don’t think there will be a soft sentence.”
Dmitry Furman, one of Russia’s leading political scientists, said the sentence was “terrible and cruel ... This case completely divided society.”
“Instead of examining the real problems which sprang from the privatizations of the 1990s and the appearance of enormous fortunes, Putin, through personal enmity, decided to persecute one person,” he said.
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