EU foreign policy chief blasts new Khodorkovsky verdict

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply disappointed” by the decision of the Moscow City Court to uphold the verdict in the jailed Russian tycoons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev case.

The court upheld the multi-million dollar theft and money laundering conviction against the two men on Tuesday, although it reduced their additional six-year sentence by one year.

“I remain troubled by allegations of numerous violations in due process which reflect systemic problems within the Russian judiciary,” the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said in a statement.

Ashton welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to invite independent experts to re-examine the case, but urged Russia “to demonstrate its determination to establish a society based on respect for the rule of law.”

“For genuine political, economic, and societal modernization to take place, reforms should be undertaken in Russia toward establishing a transparent, independent and reliable judicial system, which inspires confidence and is free from political interference,” Ashton said.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were originally convicted of fraud and tax evasion in a separate trial in 2005 after spending two years in pre-trial detention. The new ruling means they will stay in prison until at least 2016, well after next year’s presidential election.

The case is widely viewed as a political vendetta by Russia’s powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, whom Khodorkovsky challenged by funding liberal opposition parties in the early 2000s.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s lawyers described the court ruling as a “cosmetic reconstruction” intended to give the initial harsh verdict a semblance of fairness. They said they will appeal the new decision.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Tuesday declared Khodorkovsky and Lebedev “prisoners of conscience.”

BRUSSELS, May 25 (RIA Novosti)

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