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Russian 'higher ups' orchestrated trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, says court assistant

During the trial of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the judge's original decision 'didn't suit higher ups, so he received a different verdict which he had to deliver,' a court assistant told Russian media.

By Correspondent / February 15, 2011

Mikhail Khodorkovsky looks on from behind a glass enclosure at a court room in Moscow, Russia, in this Dec. 30, 2010 file photo.

Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP

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Moscow

Russia's judge who sentenced former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in December to an additional six years in a Siberian penal colony took orders from "higher ups" who disagreed with the ruling he planned to deliver, the judge's court assistant has publicly alleged, saying her boss agreed under pressure to deliver a different verdict.

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The remarks by Natalya Vasilyeva, who was aide and spokesperson for Judge Viktor Danilkin during the controversial 20-month second trial of Mr. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, have ignited a firestorm of discussion around what may be Russia's most sensitive political issue.

Judge Danilkin today called the allegations "slanderous" and promised legal action against Ms. Vasilyeva. But supporters of Khodorkovsky say the remarks are another compelling piece of evidence for their contention that the Kremlin stage-managed his trial to throw a veil of legality over what they say is outright political persecution.

"If anyone else [besides Judge Danilkin] participated in writing the verdict, then the verdict itself is illegal," says Khodorkovsky's defense attorney, Yury Schmidt, adding that the allegations will give new impetus to the appeal and could result in criminal charges against Danilkin.

Even Kremlin officials have worried out loud about the negative impact on Russia's international investment prospects created by the widespread perception that in Khodorkovsky's case Russian law was subordinated to Kremlin dictate. Vasilyeva's testimony is bound to deepen concerns about the reliability of Russian justice.

Trial orchestrated by 'higher ups'

When Vladimir Putin came to power more than a decade ago, Khodorkovsky was one of very few Russian "oligarchs" to refuse to drop all political support for opposition parties.

An initial 2005 trial sentenced him to nine years in a Siberian penal colony on charges of graft, tax evasion, and fraud as part of a Kremlin campaign against the super-rich oligarchs. A lengthy 2007 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in December summarized the evidence that Khodorkovsky was being hounded by the Kremlin for political reasons and concluded that he would never be freed from prison as long as Mr. Putin remained in power.

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