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 The support group for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other defendants in the YUKOS case

     

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Russia on Trial

 

By Karinna Moskalenko

The Wall Street Journal

December 16, 2004

 

As an attorney for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former CEO and a major shareholder of the Yukos oil company in Russia, I am encouraged by the attention his trial is attracting in the West. This week, Yukos filed for bankruptcy protection in a U.S. court in an attempt to prevent the Russian government from auctioning off its main assets. But many in the West are still unaware of the many procedural violations and human-rights abuses in connection with the case.

 

 

Mr. Khodorkovsky, who won respect in the U.S. and around the world for his business leadership, who embraced corporate governance, who established and funds charitable social foundations, and who dared to openly support opposition political parties and candidates in the "new" Russia, now sits in Moscow's infamous Matrosskaya Tishina prison along with his business partner Platon Lebedev. Their joint trial, on a range of trumped-up charges, is currently under way.

 

 

Fundamental to any constitutional democracy is the rule of law, a fair trial and transparent judicial system, guaranteed rights of the accused and the presumption of innocence -- all of which still are subject to manipulation in Russia. Indeed, many of us believe that the General Prosecutor's office and the courts are merely an extension of the Kremlin's political will and remain convenient instruments to intimidate and subdue critics of the state. One judge has already been removed from a related Yukos tax case due to her failure to conduct the trial in a manner expected by her political superiors.

 

 

There has been a concerted effort by the Kremlin to portray the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev cases as if they were criminal enforcement matters, based on applicable legal standards. Of course they are not. These are cases brought for a variety of political reasons, among them the defendants' support for political diversity and democracy in Russia. No small part of their "crime" was utilizing their wealth to support freedom of speech and political dialogue, in pursuit of the vision of a democratic, free-enterprise Russia where the rule of law permits citizens and businesses a full opportunity to live and work freely. In doing so, these gentlemen defied a tacit understanding that they could keep their fortunes and stay in business if they stayed out of politics.

 

 

Most observers in Russia and overseas agree that this case clearly has all the markings of a political show trial. But questions may remain in some quarters over the validity of the charges against the defendants. Make no mistake about it; the charges themselves are contrived, selective, and political in nature.

 

 

The Khodorkovsy and Lebedev cases are fraught with violations of due process and human rights -- including arbitrary detention, closed hearings, improper search, and denial of the right to effective counsel, among other violations. Judicial procedures during the preliminary hearings and the trial itself have been highly irregular, ignoring the statute of limitations, admitting inadmissible evidence, and the like. The Russian courts have employed a Soviet-era trick of holding the hearings in tiny courtrooms with no spare room, to keep the media out. Since the state now controls all Russian television networks, which are the public's main news source, there has been a complete lack of free and fair television coverage of the trial. Finally, the charges are poorly prepared; materials issued by the prosecution cannot pass the test of accuracy and substantiation in an open court session; and the bulk of the case materials are copies which cannot be independently authenticated. This so-called evidence simply would not stand up in a Western court. If the Russian state prosecutor, Dmitry Shokhin, had a real case against the defendants, would he have to resort to flimsy and faulty evidence, and ignore the rule of law to make his case?

 

 

In fact, nearly all the witnesses called by Mr. Shokhin have testified in favor of -- not against -- Messrs. Lebedev and Khodorkovsky. Many of these witnesses -- regional officials, former employees, managers, contractors, etc. -- testified to the huge positive impact that the defendants' business activities had on the economic and social developments of the regions. As a result, the prosecutor was left in the awkward position of trying to persuade his witnesses to return to the "testimonies" given before the trial.

 

 

Fortunately, not all Russians consider the charges against Messrs. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to be valid. Those with access to independent sources of information will, along with the rest of the world, undoubtedly dismiss the trial's outcome as a sham and a fraud.

 

 

In March 2004, the Council of Europe in Strasburg appointed the former federal justice minister of Germany, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, as Rapporteur in the Yukos case to investigate "the circumstances surrounding the arrest and prosecution of leading Yukos executives." Following an extensive investigation, which included two fact-finding missions to Moscow, Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger presented a comprehensive report which meticulously lists the procedural, due-process and human-rights violations in the case. Her report also calls into question the continuing attacks against Yukos, concluding that the prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky was designed to "weaken an outspoken political opponent, to intimidate other wealthy individuals and to regain control over strategic economic assets."

 

 

In Russia, government-inspired scapegoating is a dangerous and malicious tool with chilling historical antecedents. Many Russians, as well as students of Soviet history, cannot help but note the parallels between the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev trial and the infamous Stalinist show trials in 1937. Neither truth nor evidence was required or presented by Stalin's state prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky because Stalin's trials were political; their purpose was repression and their outcome pre-determined, as is the case today.

 

 

Democracy demands that human rights, political freedom, the rule of law and due process be honored in a country to the point of permitting open political dissent and entrepreneurial independence. The benefits of national stability, economic efficiency, and commercial productivity are negligible if that progress is gained by crushing hard-won freedoms. Any return to old authoritarian policies of repression, intimidation and unconstitutional processes undermines the historic leap forward that Russia took when the old Soviet system was pushed aside 13 years ago.

 

 

Russian authorities have created an extremely complicated and volatile situation. Their investigation made many procedural errors, including violating the constitutional right to defense, that should ultimately lead to Messrs. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev being recognized as victims of an unfair trial.

 

 

I hope to have the chance to argue all these facts in an open and impartial courtroom. However, the actions of the judges so far do not hold much promise for such an objective trial and judicious outcome based solely on the merits of the case. What is most critical, then, is that the rest of the world maintains the closest attention to this trial and holds appropriate authorities accountable, for this is a litmus test for the future of the country.

 

 

Today, Russia itself is on trial.

 

Ms. Moskalenko, an attorney for the defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is a member of the Expert Council for the Plenipotentiary on Human Rights for the Russian Federation and the Moscow Helsinki Group.

 

 

the SOVEST group

our position

petition

we

the YUKOS case

Russia on Trial

victims

opinions

what you can do

 

 

how to contact us

 

 

 

 

*    contact@sovest.org

( 7 (095722-8477  Moscow

( 8  (050)  316 -1626    Odessa

* kras58@mail.ru          Odessa

 

Sovest  ('conscience', 'integrity' in Russian),
an independent public group, was created Dec. 3, 2003,
to provide public support to the YUKOS shareholders and employees. Our principal purpose is to make the authorities respect civil rights of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other defendants in the YUKOS case.
The main goal of the group today is to use all legal means insisting that victims of the Yukos case be released from incarceration, and to claim an impartial, open and fair trial.
The group is non-commercial and totally independent from any political or financial affiliations. All activities are conducted on a voluntary and gratuitous basis.

 

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