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A Very Busy Day

Dear Readers, If you have seen the news today, I’m sure you understand that we are having a very busy day. These new charges mean that the Russian procuracy is effectively looking for a life sentence for my client, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. They want to take a man with immense gifts and who was largely responsible for some of the most important innovations in the oil fields of Siberia and imprison him during his most productive years. They desire to do this not to seek justice, but to thwart it, not for the good of the country, but for themselves. Acting outside of the law in a manner that is both cynical and transparent, we begin yet another chapter in this new and somewhat insane dictatorship of law, which is no law and all dictatorship. We must tonight think not only of Khodorkovsky, but of Russia, and what it means that people of such limited vision have been given such immense power. I have just spoken with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s chief counsel in Russia, Yuri Schmidt, by telephone from Chita. Schmidt had arrived in Chita on Monday morning, after an overnight flight from Moscow which he almost didn’t make because the police had detained him and his colleagues on no grounds whatsoever while they were checking in for their flight and then held them locked up in the airport jail without charges for over an hour. After such an ordeal, Schmidt had a full day of work ahead of him in Chita, as Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev had charges formally filed against them on Monday. Schmidt reports that the city of Chita, normally a sleepy backwater, feels like an armed camp. There are police on every corner, and when Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were transported from the jail to the procuracy for the reading of the indictment, all traffic was cleared from their route – in exactly the same way as is done for the president. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev themselves are being guarded by a phalanx of OMON troops wearing crash helmets and balaclava ski masks and armed with machine guns. These troops have been brought in from elsewhere in Russia, and do not answer to the local authorities. Schmidt, who has worked as a lawyer since Soviet times and thought he had seen it all, says that he has never encountered the kind of draconian security procedures that are in place at the Chita SIZO isolator prison where his client is being held. To visit Khodorkovsky, he has to undergo a full search of all his belongings and pass through thirty locked doors and gates. Commenting on the actual charges, Schmidt feels that the procurators who drew them up must not have even paused for a moment to think about the ludicrous numbers they were writing down. Khodorkovsky is charged with having embezzled and laundered a staggering $25 billion – more than the entire market capitalization of YUKOS at the time the alleged theft took place! In Khodorkovsky’s words, this “isn’t absurd – it’s insane”. Finally, Schmidt reports that it has been announced that the actual trial will take place inside the Chita isolator prison. Even if we ignore the fact that by law it should be taking place in Moscow, the very idea of holding it inside the walls of this high-security facility means that even if the trial is formally declared to be “open”, in fact nobody – except those the power chooses – will be allowed to attend because they will not be able to obtain security clearance from the prison authorities. – Robert Amsterdam