Washington—Russia should reverse course and use the trial of Moscow billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky to signal real interest in restoring the rule of law, leading members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) said today after a briefing entitled: “Legal Hooliganism – Is the Yukos show trial finally over?”
Nearly seven years after Khodorkovsky, once the head of Russia’s largest and most profitable oil company, was arrested during a speaking tour promoting civic participation, prosecutors brought new charges of money-laundering against him that could leave him in a Siberian prison for 22 years.
“It’s time for action to follow the good words we’ve all heard from President Medvedev about the rule of law,” Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) said. “A just conclusion to this case would remove a persistent irritant to Russia’s relations with democratic countries. I remain optimistic and hope the Russian authorities choose justice over political vendettas.
Commissioners heard from Vadim Klyuvgant, Khodorkovsky’s lead defense attorney, who laid out the laundry list of procedural violations in his client’s case. The Commission briefing was hosted in cooperation with Freedom House.
In a summary entitled “Justice Under Pressure” about the case, Khodorkovsky’s defense team said the judge has been “willfully blind to the many violations that have contaminated the process from the investigatory stage to the ongoing trial. Wrongly asserting that it is not within his purview to do so, the judge has failed to exercise his authority to cure even the most egregious flaws pointed out by the defense.”
Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) said: “While this case is not new, it remains an important indicator of the shifting fortunes and influence of various Kremlin factions. Mayor Luzhkov’s abrupt dismissal this week in Moscow similarly underscores just how fast things can change in today’s Russia and how the rule of law and the free market take a backseat to political whims.”
Commissioner Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) said: “It is very important that Mikhail Khodorkovsky get a fair trial in Russia. This is an opportunity for Russia to show the world that they are serious about promoting free speech and human rights. Peaceful demonstration and political disagreement must always be allowed in order for healthy public debate to occur in a free nation.”
Commissioner Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) added: “This case, for Russians and the international community, is emblematic of crony capitalism and a failure to ensure the rule of law in Russia.”