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Two wrongs don't make a right

Mikhail Khodorkovsky and YUKOS LogoThe second jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky has provoked a storm of righteous anger from the Western press, claiming that the charges against him (of stealing oil he had already served time for not paying taxes on) were something of a farce.
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This prompted an equally righteous riposte from Russia's Foreign Ministry, claiming that the West should "mind its own business".

The truth is not to be found in the mumbled verdict of the judge, who was clearly under some pressure to keep the politically ambitious former Yukos owner behind bars, or the hypocritical outrage of the Western media.

Such protests simply miss the point: Khodorkovsky is not some kind of human rights hero, or Nelson Mandela. The way he amassed his fortune means he cannot be defended from any moral point of view.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin actually hit the nail on the head with his comment: "A thief should sit in jail." This quote, taken from the Soviet-era film, "The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed", is strangely appropriate to Khodorkovsky's case. Vladimir Vysotsky's character deliberately frames a pickpocket for something he didn't do ­ to clinch a conviction in a bigger case. In other words, the ends justify the means. In post-Soviet Russia that is exactly how justice works, or doesn't work.

One thing Khodorkovsky did for sure is what most oligarchs did: they robbed the country blind in the mass privatisations that the West coyly dubbed "the sale of the century".

He was just one of a cabal of robber barons who, together with officials such as privatisation guru Anatoly Chubais, conspired to quasi-legally steal prize assets from the Russian people for a song in the "loans for shares" scandal.

Khodorkovsky's Bank Menatep organised the sale of Yukos ­ to itself, for $160 million. A few years later, Khodorkovsky was worth $15 billion.

This was clearly daylight robbery. The problem is that most of the other oligarchs are still free to enjoy the loot, and there is no political will to reverse those privatisations.

But regardless of the farcical nature of the latest trial, it doesn't make what Khodorkovsky did OK. Two wrongs don't make a right, and robber barons do still belong in jail.

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