While Russia’s former
Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent his 50th birthday in prison,
NTV channel broadcast a documentary that accused the Yukos founders of being
involved in the murder of a public official. Meanwhile, Moscow police had
to detain more than 40 activists who tried to organize an authorized rally
in support of Khodorkovsky in central Moscow.
According to the opposition-leaning Novaya Gazeta
daily, nearly 200 people tried to organize an unsanctioned protest in support
of Khodorkovsky in central Moscow. Several small protests were held all across
Russia, in a show of support for the jailed tycoon.
Meanwhile, the state-controlled NTV channel aired a
documentary, “Murder for a Present,” accusing Yukos
founders—including Mikhail Khodorkovsky—of being involved in the 1998 murder of
Nefteyugansk’s mayor, Vladimir Petukhov, in western Siberia.
Remarkably, the accusations came from investigators on
Khodorkovsky’s birthday. While the imprisoned tycoon
denies his involvement in the murder, pundits see the film as an attempt to
launch a campaign and the set the scene for a third criminal case against
Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev.
Both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are expected to be freed by the
court by 2014, but Russia’s Investigative Committee is now reviewing an expert
report analyzing the second Yukos case. Investigators say the experts were paid
by Yukos to conduct their research.
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One of the experts, prominent economist Sergei Guriyev, left
Russia for France after being questioned by investigators regarding his
assertions about the case. Another expert, former Constitutional Court Judge
Tamara Morshakova, is expected to be questioned by investigators on Thursday, June 27.
Meanwhile, many high-profile Russian politicians and
cultural figures, as well as three European lawmakers, congratulated
Khodorkovsky in public statements on Wednesday, June 26.
Among the Russian well-wishers were anti-corruption
campaigner and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Russian tycoon and former
presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, and prominent opposition writer Boris
The story of Khodorkovsky
As one of Russia’s most prominent tycoons and the former
owner of the defunct oil giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky celebrated his 50th
birthday on Wednesday behind bars. He has spent nearly
10 years in prison on charges of fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion, which is
seen by many observers as President Vladimir Putin’s revenge for the
businessman’s deep engagement in politics.
After 10 years in prison, Khodorkovsky has become a sort of
icon for liberal politicians and opposition campaigners. He is expected to be
freed next October, if he does not face new criminal charges.
When he was arrested, Khodorkovsky was seen as Russia’s
richest man and one of the country’s seven most influential businessmen. In
addition to business, he was engaged in financially propping up Communists and
the liberal political opposition, as some Russian media outlets have reported.
According to a poll released on June 25 by the
independent Levada Center, one-third of Russians support parole for
Khodorkovsky—twice the number of those who want him to remain in prison. The
poll was conducted among 1,600 people in 45 Russian regions, with a margin of
error of 3.4 percent.
The head of the For Human Rights movement, Lev Ponomaryov,
described Khodorkovsky as “a person in the spotlight of social and political
life in Russia,” saying by telephone that the jailed tycoon is “indisputably a
“This is a unique example of when a person who is behind
bars continues to have an impact on the political environment in the country,”
said the human rights activist.
Meanwhile, Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal
opposition Yabloko party (which Khodorkovsky sponsored in 2003), claims
Khodorkovsky was imprisoned because he “dared to challenge Putin.”
Before of his birthday, the New Times opposition magazine
interviewed Khodorkovsky. In the interview, he revealed the secrets of his life
in prison, his family and politics.
“I could hardly imagine the possibility of being released
because I have gotten used to prison,” said the former Yukos head.
While speaking about politics, Khodorkovsky criticized both
the Kremlin and Russia’s opposition movement: He accused the former of
corruption, limiting freedom of expression and economic freedom; the latter was
faulted for “replacing actions with words” and lacking “sincerity and honesty.”
Before his detention in October 2003, Khodorkovsky made no
bones about the alleged corruption in the state-run oil giant Rosneft. In April
of that year, the tycoon revealed his plans to finance the liberal opposition
parties Yabloko and Union of Right Forces (now defunct) before the December
2003 parliamentary elections.
Following Khodorkovsky’s announcement, a respectful think
tank (Council for National Strategy) headed by former Kremlin insider Stanislav
Belkovsky published a report that accused Yukos leadership of plotting to
overthrow Putin by financing Communists and the liberal opposition.
This article is based on materials from The Moscow