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Russian judge's superiors issued verdict against ex-tycoon, aide says

Judge Viktor Danilkin was given a different version to read after his initial verdict was rejected by Moscow City Court officials, the aide says. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was ordered to remain in prison until 2017.

February 15, 2011|By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times
  • Russian Judge Viktor Danilkin ordered former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, already in prison for a previous conviction, to remain in prison until 2017 for embezzlement and money laundering.
Russian Judge Viktor Danilkin ordered former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky,… (Sergey Ponomarev / Associated…)

Reporting from Moscow — The Russian judge who found former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty of embezzlement in late December read a verdict written by superiors after they had rejected his own version, an aide disclosed Monday.

Moscow City Court officials did not approve of the wording in the initial verdict drafted by Judge Viktor Danilkin, who presided over the case, and gave him a different version to read in court, Natalia Vasilyeva, a spokeswoman for Moscow Khamovnichesky Court, said in an interview with Vedomosti, a business daily.

"I know for an absolute fact that the verdict was brought from the Moscow City Court," Vasilyeva said. Danilkin "was nervous, stressed and indignant with what he was ordered to do, and he didn't like it at all."

Vasilyeva did not say how the final verdict differed from Danilkin's original.

Danilkin ordered Khodorkovsky, already in prison for a previous conviction, to remain behind bars until 2017 after finding him guilty of embezzlement and money laundering. Government critics have long maintained that the former tycoon was the victim of politically motivated prosecutions designed to silence a potential rival to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Danilkin reacted Monday by telling Interfax news agency that "the statement by Vasilyeva is slander, which can only be disproved in a legal way, that is, by pressing a lawsuit."

"Here we're dealing not just with pressure on the court but with a public relations action planned by somebody in detail," Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. "Vasilyeva is accusing the judge of committing a serious crime, and it only remains to find out what her motives were."

Vasilyeva said in her interview that Danilkin had to go to Moscow City Court at least once a week during the monthlong verdict-preparation stage and would always come back stressed and fuming.

"I don't know where I will be tomorrow and what will happen to me tomorrow," she quoted the judge as saying. When Vasilyeva asked him at some point what she should tell the media about the case, she said, he could only say: "Do whatever you want. It is all the same to me now."

Danilkin was scheduled to give his verdict Dec. 15, but that day it was announced that the reading would be delayed until late December. Vasilyeva said the Moscow City Court sent down its version of the verdict after that date, with some portions arriving during Danilkin's four-day reading of the findings.

"The entire justice community has a full understanding that it was a case-to-order, a trial-to-order, and everyone was sympathizing with Viktor Nikolayevich [Danilkin] but nobody knows how to get out of this situation with dignity," Vasilyeva said. "When you refuse [to do what you are told], you would be told to resign at best."

On Dec. 16, the day after the reading of the verdict was delayed, Putin told a live call-in television show in reference to Khodorkovsky that "a thief should sit in prison" and suggested that the former businessman had organized at least two contract killings.

Vasilyeva's accusation is not likely to have an immediate effect on Khodorkovsky's appeal, the former tycoon's lawyer said.

"I trust Vasilyeva's words completely," said Yuri Schmidt, the lawyer. "The verdict was so badly written that I believe it could have been composed by the prosecutors and not by Judge Danilkin, whom I always regarded as a highly qualified specialist."

Schmidt said Vasilyeva's statement was a declaration that a crime had been committed and an unfair sentence imposed on the defendant, and said the matter should be looked into by the Russian Investigation Committee.

"I am afraid Vasilyeva will be under tremendous pressure from now on, and I can only hope that the brave young woman will not succumb and take back what she has revealed today," Schmidt said. "It is clear to everybody that Premier Putin was applying unprecedented pressure on the trial, and only after we see the results of the imminent investigation into Vasilyeva's revelations can we lodge another complaint."

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