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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Khodorkovsky Wins Big in Switzerland

The Times of London reports:

Switzerland’s highest court said that Russian legal proceedings against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former chief executive of Yukos, were politically motivated and blocked the release to the Russian authorities of bank documents relating to the bankrupt oil company.

The Swiss federal tribunal, in a landmark ruling, found that Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, his associate, were victims of political persecution and it rejected a request for assistance by Russian authorities in their pursuit of tax claims against Yukos.

The tribunal in Lausanne accepted arguments by lawyers representing the two men that the criminal proceedings were discriminatory and politically motivated.

In refusing to release the documents, the court referred to “concrete facts that lead to the inference that the appellant is under pursuit for hidden motives, notably in relation to his political opinions”. Moscow had opened the criminal case against Khodorkovsky to “sideline declared or potential political adversaries”, the court stated.

The Swiss ruling is the first time that a leading nonRussian tribunal has opined on merits of the Khodorkovsky case. The Yukos chief, who was once Russia’s richest man, was a vocal critic of President Putin. Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax fraud in 2004 and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in Siberia.

Swiss authorities ordered the release yesterday of about SwFr300 million (£124 million) held in bank accounts linked to the former Yukos owners. The case arose in 2003 when Russian authorities sought legal help from Switzerland in their pursuit of alleged fraud and money laundering in relation to Menatep, the holding company through which Khodorkovsky and his associates controlled Yukos. The oil company was bankrupted and dismembered by Russian authorities in pursuit of massive tax claims. The assets of Yukos were sold to Rosneft after several rigged auctions.

The Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin is hopping mad:

The prosecutor general on Monday slammed a Swiss court's decision to lift a freeze on funds related to bankrupt oil firm Yukos as an unfriendly move toward the country. "We consider this decision politically motivated. [LR: Now THAT is the pot calling the kettle black if you've ever heard it!] This is a move of nonrespect toward our country and an attack on its sovereignty," Yury Chaika told a news conference. He said his deputy would fly to Switzerland for consultations this week.

Swiss judicial authorities said last week that they had lifted a freeze on all funds related to Yukos, worth some 200 million to 300 million Swiss francs ($166 million to $249 million). The move followed a ruling by Switzerland's highest court blocking a Swiss government bid to give Russia documents linked to bank accounts held by former Yukos owners, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, and several companies. The landmark ruling by the Lausanne-based Federal Tribunal, or Supreme Court, halted Swiss cooperation with Russia in a criminal case that the five judges said seemed aimed at ousting "political rivals."

The Swiss ruling concluded "that the [Russian] penal procedure in the case at hand is being maneuvered by the powers that be with the intention to rein in the class of rich 'oligarchs' and sideline potential or declared political adversaries."

Lawyers for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev welcomed the decision, saying it was the first time the top Swiss court had invoked political persecution and human rights violations as grounds for not helping foreign authorities pursue a criminal matter. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are each serving eight-year prison terms in Siberia on charges of fraud and tax evasion. The Swiss court said the two should not have been sent to prison camps in Siberia because Russian law provided for the place of detention to be close to their home or place of trial. Russia this month sold the last big asset of Yukos. State-controlled Rosneft, now the country's largest oil firm, bought refineries and other assets from Yukos at a state-forced auction earlier this year.

Way to go Bob Amsterdam and the brilliant Khodorkovsky legal team! Take it to 'em! We're behind you all the way!

Amsterdam's blog has all the details, here.

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