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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Russia ex-PM testifies Khodorkovsky arrest politically motivated
Dwyer Arce at 9:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] on Monday testified that former president Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] ordered the arrest of former oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] for political reasons. Testifying before the Khamovnichesky District Court, Kasyanov stated [Moscow Times report] that after questioning Putin on the subject several times, he finally indicated that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president, prompting the arrest. The left-leaning Union of Right Forces and Yabloko [party websites, in Russian] have acknowledged receiving funding from Khodorkovsky, which, according to Kasyanov, was authorized by Putin, but the Communist Party has denied ties to Khodorkovsky. Kasyanov went on to criticize [NYT report] the practice of seeking secret presidential approval for the otherwise legal funding of political parties. Kasyanov served as prime minister under Putin from 2000 to 2004, before being dismissed along with the entire cabinet, and has since become critical of Putin. Putin currently serves as prime minister under President Dmitri Medvedev [official website; BBC profile].

Last week, Khodorkovsky ended a two-day hunger strike [JURIST report] after a spokesperson for Medvedev indicated that Medvedev was familiar with a complaint Khodorkovsky made regarding the three-month extension of his detention. Also last week, Khodorkovsky sent an open letter to Russia's Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] contending that Russian courts are ignoring recent changes in the law that allow people charged with economic crimes to be released on bail pending the outcome of their trials. Khodorkovsky indicated the goal of his hunger strike had been achieved [press release], and that his intention was to change the judicial system going forward and not his current situation. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are currently serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an attempt to embezzle and strip their Yukos [JURIST news archive] oil company of valuable assets. They are now charged with embezzling [JURIST report] USD $25 billion worth of oil produced by Yukos. The men have pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the current charges, and face up to 20 additional years in prison if convicted.

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