The following interview with Robert Amsterdam on the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was published on Monday on page six of El País, Spain’s largest national daily newspaper.
Interview: Robert Amsterdam, international legal counsel to Mikhail Khodorkovsky
“In Russia the thieves hold court”
Georgina Higueras, Madrid, April 6, 2009
Arrested and expelled from Russia in 2005, following the first trial against the oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam, 53 years old, became the international legal counsel to the former owner of Yukos, who being the most wealth man in Russia became one of the biggest enemies of the Kremlin, who sent him to the galleys in 2003. “The accusations are absurd. It is a political process,” affirms Amsterdam with regard to the new trial against Khodorkovsky, which began last March 31, for having embezzled, according to the prosecutor, 896 billion rubles (some 20 billion euros).
Question: How is the second trial going?
Answer: You can’t call it a second trial because the first onealready made a joke out of justice. According to international law youcannot try someone under new charges which are the same as the firstones.
Q: But now they accuse him of having embezzled 350 million tons of crude…
A: That is more oil than Yukos produced and are the same charges offraud and manipulation of production to lower the taxes. They have notfound one independent lawyer in Russia that could say that the chargesare correct.
Q: How will the defense be carried out?
A: Khodorkovsky will present on Tuesday 66 slides which will proveto the court and to the Russian people that his businesses weretransparent and legal, and the accusations, ridiculous.
Q: What kinds of slides?
A: About the audits made of his company, which reveal that nothingillegal was done, and which reveal the nature of the attack, in whichthe state has unfurled all of its resources against one man who hasbeen illegally imprisoned in Siberia, while the governments of theworld remain silent about the case.
Q: What is the goal of the new process?
A: They are trying to destroy the legal position of Yukos investorsand Khodorkovsky with the use of the court that they control.
Q: Arrested in October of 2003, Khodorkovsky faces a definitesentence of eight years in a prison 6,600 kilometers from Moscow since2005. Do you believe that the current process is to prevent that hereceives a conditional release?
A: This is without doubt one of the reasons, because havingfulfilled half of his sentence he should be let out on parole, but itis clear that they do not want him to be out on the streets before thepresidential elections of 2012.
Q: Is it true that he could be sentenced to 22 years in prison?
A: There’s no law. The same people who ordered him to be imprisoned can free him. Everything is arbitrary, totally political.
Q: However, on his webpage – khodorkovskycenter.com – Khodorkovsky talks about “positive signs of institutional change.”
A: President Dmitry Medvedev is not Vladimir Putin. Medvedev himselfrecognized that Russia suffers from the problem of “legal nihilism.”There are many of us who think that there is a difference betweenhaving a lawyer like Medvedev as president, and having an ex-KGBofficer like Putin.
Q: What is the difference?
A: Personally, I think that Medvedev didn’t want for this trial tobegin two days before the G-20 Summit. This is in the interests ofMedvedev’s Russia. The timing of the trial reveals many questions aboutthe different factions of power in the country. No one understands whyin the middle of a crisis that affects everyone that they aren’tfocusing their efforts in fighting it.
Q: Who has interest in this trial?
A: [Igor] Sechin, Vice Prime Minister and energy czar, the man wholed Rosneft to steal the assets of Yukos. He has an interest in seeingto that Khodorkovsky continues to be held in jail.
Q: Are you directly accusing Sechin?
A: It’s not the first time. There are many who believe thatKhodorkovsky’s situation is absurd, and that those in the Kremlin whohave profited from Yukos should be put on trial. It is as though thethieves of the victim are the ones holding court.
Q: When was the last time you spoke with your client?
A: Two days ago. We communicate through intermediaries because theyhave not allowed me to return to Russia, although I have solicited avisa. They were apparently worried enough about the human rightsactivist Lev Ponomarev, who was beaten on the night of March 31 forhave shown his support and criticizing this new trial.
Q: How long will the trial last?
A: Months, though in Russia everything is unpredictable. Like I havealready said, it would only take one word for all this to end and forhim to be freed. Putin has captured the governance of the country, butfrom night to morning everything can change.