Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Monday ordered Russia's prosecutor general to conduct a study into 32 criminal cases, including the case of ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive]. Khodorkovsky, who was once in charge of Russia's largest oil company, Yukos [Yahoo company profile], was arrested in 2003 on charges of tax evasion and fraud. Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev were convicted in December 2010 and sentenced [JURIST reports] on charges connected with embezzling more than $27 billion from Yukos oil. Controversy has surrounded the charges and the accompanying prison sentence from opponents of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official profile] who suspect that Khodorkovsky's sentence is politically motivated [Reuters report]. Medvedev's order comes after opposition leaders gave him a list of prisoners whose sentences are believed to be solely politically motivated. Opponents of the Medvedev/Putin administration are skeptical of Medvedev's order as an empty gesture and are waiting to see if the president and the prosecutor general comply with the order. Putin has recently won a six-year term as president and after he is inaugurated in May, he is expected to appoint Medvedev as prime minister.
Opposition leaders are not the only group that has shown skepticism about the validity of Khodorkovsky's sentence. In December, the Russia Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights under President Dmitry Medvedev called for the prosecutor general to petition to annul the conviction [JURIST report]. Describing the verdict as fictitious, council member and former Constitutional Court judge, Tamara Morshchakova, noted the council found neither evidence nor substance to the charges brought against Khodorkovsky in the second trial. The council's decisions are non-binding and have seldom elicited action from Russian authorities. In July, the council urged amnesty for economic crimes in a meeting with Medvedev that would include amnesty for the crimes of Khodorkovsky. Last year former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov testified [JURIST report] that former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party without first getting approval to do so from the president.