Jailed tycoon will sacrifice for freedom in Russia

Jailed tycoon will sacrifice for freedom in Russia
# 03 November 2010 02:56 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky used his closing argument at his second trial on Tuesday to raise his profile as a political prisoner, saying he would sacrifice his life for the rule of law in Russia, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Dressed in black and smiling gently at his parents, Khodorkovsky delivered a 22-minute speech in which he said he was "ashamed" of Russia, a country where "a person who collides with ’the system’ has no rights whatsoever."

"I am not an ideal person, but I am a person with an idea ... If I have to (die in prison), I will not hesitate. The things I believe in are worth dying for," Khodorkovsky told a packed courtroom to enthusiastic applause.

Russia’s most high profile prisoner is facing six more years behind bars in his second trial, meaning he would serve a total of 14 years in a case that the West has been watching to gauge President Dmitry Medvedev’s commitment to the rule of law.

In the second trial, the former Yukos oil company chief is accused of stealing $27 billion worth of oil from his firm.

Supporters have cast Khodorkovsky’s two trials as part of a Kremlin-driven campaign of revenge for perceived political, economic and personal challenges to Vladimir Putin, who was president at the time of his arrest in 2003 and retains much power as prime minister.

He said millions would watch his trial "with the hope that Russia could become a country of freedom and of the law, where the law will be above the bureaucratic official."


Judge Viktor Danilkin said on Tuesday the verdict on Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev would be handed down on December 15.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, was arrested in 2003 after falling foul of Kremlin under Putin. His business empire, which produced more oil than OPEC member Qatar, was carved up and sold to state controlled companies.

His first sentence, in which he was found guilty of fraud and tax evasion, will end in October 2011. If found guilty in the new trial, he could stay in prison until 2017, which would likely fuel further criticism of the Kremlin, which opponents say uses Russia’s courts to impose its will.

Khodorkovsky, along with Lebedev, who was also in court on Tuesday but chose not to give a closing argument, have always protested their innocence.

Self-styled liberal Medvedev has repeatedly called for more democracy and engagement with civil society in Russia since taking office two years ago as Putin’s anointed successor, but human rights groups and diplomats say little has changed.

Khodorkovsky scoffed at Medvedev’s pledges, saying Russia’s so-called stability was actually "stagnation."

"To pretend we are developing, while in actuality we are merely standing in one place or sliding backwards, even if behind the cloak of noble conservatism, is no longer possible."

The prosecution of Khodorkovsky and other Yukos officers helped Putin boost state control over the oil industry, a crucial source of budget funds in the economic boom fed largely by high world oil prices during Putin’s presidency.

After the tycoon’s arrest, Yukos collapsed under the weight of massive back-tax claims and was sold off, with its main production subsidiaries ending up in the hands of state-run Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil firm.