WASHINGTON – The leadership of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, (the U.S. Helsinki Commission), expressed disappointment today at the nine-year long prison sentence meted out to Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky by a court in Moscow. The prosecution had sought the maximum ten-year sentence.
“This case appears to the world to be justice directed by politics,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “President Putin should keep in mind that basic human rights, a fair and equitable judicial system, and real democracy are the cornerstones of the true market reforms he professes–anything less is a step backwards. It seems that, from the Kremlin’s viewpoint, Khodorkovsky’s worst crime was that he crossed the line between business and politics.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
Khodorkovsky, one of Russia’s wealthiest persons and former president of the YUKOS oil company, has been detained since October 2003 and was sentenced on May 31 to nine years imprisonment for fraud and tax evasion. During the investigatory stage of the case, Khodorkovsky’s legal counsels charged that the government illegally interfered with the conduct of their client’s defense.
Many political observers and human right activists assert that Khodorkovsky’s financial transgressions were no worse than the other “oligarchs” who cashed in on Russia’s fluid legal system and dubious business practices after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His real crime, they charge, is having become active in political circles opposing President Vladimir Putin, and even hinting he might run for political office.
“Selective prosecution such as appears to be the case here will wreak havoc on Russia’s legal system, its democratic development and its economic future,” stated Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “If President Putin values Russia’s future more than his own short-term political benefit, he needs to look long and hard at his legal system.”
“This is not just about one individual,” said Commission House Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). “Neither genuine social stability nor long-term prosperity can be achieved through arbitrary jurisprudence in any country. I urge Russian officials to stop using the judiciary system to punish political opponents.”