Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: “This is Really About Destroying a Person”

sls030809.jpgThe following is a translation of an interview with Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the former Federal Minister of Justice in Germany and Bundestag member who served as a rapporteur to the first trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, published in Deutsche Welle.

“This is Really About Destroying a Person”

DW: Ms. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, you know more about the Yukos case than any other German politician. What do you think about the new accusations against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev?

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: I consider the new accusations and the new court case to be an unsubtle attempt to keep Mr. Khodorkovsky imprisoned after he has served his first sentence of eight years. This is dealing with the same incident that was the subject of the first conviction.

How good do you consider Khodorkovsky’s chances for a fair trial as long as Putin is still in charge?

I really doubt it is a fair trial with truly independent judges and prosecution that will take everything into consideration that may exonerate a defendant. Naturally, I feel justified in this opinion because of the first process that led to eight years of imprisonment for Khodorkovsky. There were many holes in the rule of law in that case.

So you don’t have too many hopes from the new “liberal” president Medvedev?

I would be very happy if this process were to make the president’s declared goal of making the justice system more independent, and the whole system more based on the rule of law, a concrete reality. But except for this announcement several months ago, nothing has happened and there has been no change in the case. That does not make me very optimistic.

Some say it is unfair that only Khodorkovsky and a few of his close associates landed in jail, but not all of the Russian oligarchs. These people think that Khodorkovsky’s wealth could have been obtained through criminal acts. That would mean he is not a political prisoner along the lines of Nelson Mandela or Vaclav Havel.

Khodorkovsky and his fellow partner Lebedev showed themselves to be personalities willing to get involved in creating political opinion with the support of non-governmental organizations and civil society initiatives. And I would dispute any sweeping statement that everything Mr. Khodorkovsky is accused of can be generally judged criminal. Some of the acts were performed by everyone, and legal at the time. There were then changes to law applied retroactively and Khodorkovsky was clearly used to make an example to others.

Would you attempt a prognosis at the outcome of this new proceeding? Mr. Khodorkovsky is threatened with up to 22 ½ years in prison.

Unfortunately I fear and believe that this proceeding, which the prosecution has been preparing for years, could lead to another conviction for Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev. I can’t judge the length of a prison sentence, but it is possible that the punishment reaches this two-digit range. This makes the impression that this is about the destruction of a person.