Khodorkovsky verdict product of coercion: judge's assistant Sarah Paulsworth at 10:37 AM ET
[JURIST] Russian Judge Viktor Danilkin, who convicted [JURIST report] former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website profile; JURIST news archive] of money-laundering and embezzlement in December, did not write the verdict and was coerced into reading it [interview text, in Russian], Danilkin's assistant said Monday. Natalya Vasilyeva made the allegations in an interview she gave to Gazeta.ru website [official website] and the TV channel Dozjd. According to Vasilyeva, Danilkin, a judge for the Khamovnichesky District Court [official website, in Russian], was pressured and coached by officials from the Moscow City Court. "When something happened, when something went wrong, he had a duty to provide information to the Moscow City Court and, accordingly, received certain instructions on how to behave," she said. At the end of the trial, Danilkin wrote a verdict, but Vasilyeva said it probably "did not satisfy the higher ups" and he was therefore given a different verdict, which he was ordered to issue. Danilkin has responded to Vasilyeva's comments calling them slander [RFE/RL report].
In December, Danilkin sentenced [JURIST report] Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense website profile; JURIST news archive], to six additional years in prison, extending their imprisonment to a total of 14 years. Their defense counsel staunchly criticized the ruling, claiming [press release] that the court blocked significant amounts of testimony and evidence submitted by the defense and systematically quashed objections to their omission. The verdict drew vehement international criticism [JURIST report], including from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], who said [press release] that the ruling "raises serious questions about selective prosecution." The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] dismissed critics, saying [press release, in Russian] that "[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable." The men are currently serving eight-year prison sentences for fraud and tax evasion [JURIST report], to which they were sentenced in 2005 for the same money laundering from Yukos. In May, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty.
Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible, ad-free format.