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Russia hails European ruling that politics didn't drive Khodorkovsky jailing

Imprisoned Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was dealt a blow this week when the European Court of Human Rights declined to rule that his prosecution for fraud was Kremlin-manipulated.

By Correspondent / June 1, 2011

Jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands behind a glass wall at a court in Moscow, Russia, on May 24.

Misha Japaridze/AP

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Moscow

Jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in the midst of petitioning Russian authorities for parole, suffered a setback this week when the European Court of Human Rights declined to rule that the case that sent him to prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion was orchestrated by the Kremlin.

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The court's decision Tuesday also concluded that Mr. Khodorkovsky's arrest almost eight years ago on a Siberian airstrip was illegal, and that he was subsequently held in "inhumane and degrading" conditions, and awarded him $35,000 in damages from the Russian government.

But the claim that Khodorkovsky's prosecution on criminal charges was a thinly veiled effort by the Kremlin to dispense with a political threat – the central point for Khodorkovsky's defenders – was not upheld.

"The Court admits that the applicant’s case may raise a certain suspicion as to the real intent of the authorities," the Court ruling said. But "claims of political motivation behind prosecution require incontestable proof, which has not been presented," it added.

Russian authorities hailed that decision Wednesday as vindication of their longstanding argument that Khodorkovsky – who acquired his oil empire Yukos through shady privatizations with the aid of Kremlin cronies in the 1990s – is just an ordinary white-collar criminal who donned the mantle of a political prisoner to win sympathy in the West.

"The Yukos case has been surrounded by too much hysteria and groundless, incompetent claims regarding Russia's legal system," Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov told Russian news media. "Lawyers should do their job calmly and objectively, and this is what the European court has demonstrated. . . This should certainly reduce the unscrupulous and incompetent polemics" about the Khodorkovsky case in the Western media, he added.

Disappointed friends of Khodorkovsky say it was always going to be difficult to document the Kremlin hand behind the long-running prosecutions of the former oil tycoon, and insist that the European court's ruling changes nothing.

Khodorkovsky, whose 14-year sentence was upheld by a Moscow appeals court last week, is widely regarded as a victim of selective justice.

Singled out among the oligarchs

Supporters say Khodorkovsky was singled out for prosecution from among many successful 1990's "oligarchs," whose wealth had similarly dubious origins, because of his refusal to stop supporting opposition politicians and civil society groups when ordered to do so after Vladimir Putin came to power more than a decade ago. They point out that the European Court's decision only covered his first trial and that further hearings will deal with his even more controversial second trial, which ended in conviction and an additional six-year prison sentence last December.

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