Le Monde: Khodorkovsky’s Early Release Is a Test for President Medvedev

As promised on Monday, below is an exclusive translation of a cover story from the leading French daily newspaper Le Monde. mbk%20at%20davos.jpgThe request for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s early release is a test for President Medvedev Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former CEO of the oil giant Yukos has been imprisoned since 2003. His lawyers are relying on a plan for amnesty and want to believe that things have changed since Vladimir Putin’s departure. Marie Jégo, correspondent Le Monde, July 1st, 2008 MOSCOW – Lawyers for former CEO of Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison for tax fraud, are taking Dmitry Medvedev, Russian President, at his word by advising him to ask for his early release. Sentenced to eight years in prison in 2005, and in jail since 2003, the former oil chieftain has already served more than half of his sentence and can therefore ask for early release. Until now, anything he did, which was considered as bad behaviour just served as a pretext to keep him in prison: he got up from his chair without permission, he crossed his arms, he kept lemons in his drawer. The relentlessness was obvious.

With the arrival of President Medvedev, who is apparently willing to put an end to “juridical nihilism”, the lawyers of the most famous prisoner in Russia, want to stay optimistic.“We want to believe that things have changed (…). Khodorkorvsky would have never asked Putin for his release”, explained his lawyer, Yuri Schmidt, on the radio ‘Echo of Moscow’ on June, 26. The other reason for hope is a project of amnesty under study at the Duma (lower chamber of parliament), which would equate one day in remand with one day and a half or even two days of jail time. The new rules could permit Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s release for 2009, for, by that time, he will have served the totality of his sentence, according to that new accounting.This retroactive law could concern 50 000 persons. Today, Russian jails count 894 400 prisoners. Conditions of remand are particularly difficult: crowded cells, insalubrity, a lot of diseases. Prisoners usually serve 2 to 5 years of remand, waiting for their trials.A bill against lawyersFor Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an obstacle remains. Since February 2007, Yukos’ former CEO faces a new charge for money laundering and embezzlement.Transferred from Krasnokamensk (a jail near the Chinese border), he has been remanded for the past 18 months in Tchita, capital of the region, where he is reading his act of accusation of thousands of pages. His trial will start on August 2nd.On Thursday, on his 45th birthday, hundreds of people gathered in several cities (Moscow, Tchita, Tomsk) as a sign of support. A part of the Russian opinion thinks that the “Khodorkovsky case” is only an operation organized by the Kremlin in order to take hold of the energy assets – Yukos was the first in the field – and to break Khodorkovsky’s political ambitions.Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s fate is a test for Dmitry Medvedev who, since his nomination, promises to reform the justice system in depth. Another test awaits him. Just before leaving the Kremlin, on May 6, his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, had presented a new bill to the Duma which endangers the practice of lasw, since it puts an end to privileged and protected information to lawyers. From now on, a lawyer should present his files to the prosecution if it demands to see it.Expelling lawyers from the bar has also been simplified. In 2005, Russian judicial authorities asked, without result, that 4 of the 10 lawyers defending Mikhail Khodorkovsky be expelled: Anton Drel, Denis Diatlov, Elena Levina and Yuri Schmidt. If this bill is accepted, that will be a piece of cake.