Russia: Legal Dispute Stalls Khodorkovskii Appeal
By Claire Bigg
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii's appeal against his fraud conviction was once again adjourned today (20 September) as wrangling over his defense team continued. Khodorkovskii, who was sentenced in May to nine years in prison for fraud and tax evasion, has been refusing to start his defense, urging the court to wait until his main appeal lawyer is out of hospital. Prosecutors accuse the tycoon of deliberately delaying the appeal process to prepare a parliamentary election bid.
Moscow, 20 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- For the second day in a row this week, hearings were postponed today in Mikhail Khodorkovskii's closely watched appeal.
Khodorkovskii has been urging the Moscow City Court to adjourn the hearing until his main lawyer, Genrikh Padva, is discharged from hospital, where he is receiving treatment for an unspecified ailment.
Judges relented, adjourning court proceedings until 22 September. Khodorkovskii pledged both Padva and Yurii Schmidt, another defense lawyer currently on a business trip abroad, will appear in court on this date.
In the latest row between prosecutors and Khodorkovskii's defense team, the court ruled yesterday that a new defense team replace Padva. Three defense lawyers, Anton Drel, Yelena Levina, and Denis Dyatlev, say they were ordered to appear in court yesterday and sign an agreement to present the appeal.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service yesterday, Drel slammed the move as unlawful. "The outcome of today's hearing is that all legal norms are violated," he said. "Lawyers are forced to take part in the hearing although Khodorkovskii himself declared he wanted only lawyer Padva and lawyer Schmidt to take part in the appeal. But the court forces other lawyers, including me, to participate in this appeal. It says Khodorkovskii requested this, although he has not, as all those present heard. Thank God the hearings are public."
All three lawyers turned up in court but wrote a declaration saying they will not defend Khodorkovskii in court at this stage, according to their client's wish.
Khodorkovskii, the founder of oil giant Yukos and once Russia's richest man, was sentenced to nine years in prison in what many saw as a Kremlin-led campaign to crush his political ambitions.
State prosecutor Dmitrii Shokhin this week openly accused Khodorkovskii and his lawyers of deliberately dragging out his appeal. Khodorkovskii's lawyers have in turn blamed the court for trying to rush through the process.
Khodorkovskii has an interest in delaying the appeal -- he intends to run in the State Duma elections on 4 December and can only run as long as his appeal is under way. He has already started procedures to register as a candidate. The local election commission, however, has yet to accept his application, saying it has not received the signed notification of his intent to run.
His lawyers argue that the prison administration posted the notification on 15 September, and have accused the authorities and the Moscow City Court of seeking to thwart Khodorkovskii's election bid. Once this document is submitted, the election commission has 10 days to consider to application.
Khodorkovskii and his lawyers also complain they have been barred from seeing each other since 13 September. Khodorkovskii claims a sick prisoner was pushed into his cell and the cell of co-defendant Platon Lebedev, after which jail authorities declared them under quarantine.
"After the 14 September court hearing, on the very next day, possibly because of that hearing or my latest article, a person with an infectious disease was moved through three out of 10 cells on our floor and was later taken away," Khodorkovskii told reporters yesterday outside the court. "Maybe you can say it was a coincidence, but I happened to be in one of those three cells, and I think [Platon] Lebedev was in one of them, too. The following day those three cells were put under strict quarantine and that quarantine was still on when I was being taken to court. So I was unable to meet with my lawyers or receive any information from them."
Although observers agree Khodorkovskii has virtually no chances of winning a seat at the Duma, his successful registration alone could be enough to embarrass the Kremlin.