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There Is Nothing “New” in the Khodorkovsky Charges

khodorkovsky070308.jpg It is very positive that there has been such a robust reaction from the international press with regard to the latest developments in Mikhail Khodorkovsky case – public awareness of Russia’s political prisoners is tantamount to building a groundswell of support, allowing government leaders to overcome internal resistance and finally lift this stain of lawlessness on the country’s reputation. However it would not be honest if I didn’t also express my disappointment and frustration with the inaccuracy of many of the articles, as these mistaken assumptions about the basic facts of these developments are being broadly replicated across the world.

First, we must recognize that there is nothing new about the charges in the slightest, and to describe them as such is misleading. They contain the identical, impossible allegations which were first lodged against my client in February of 2007, with only slight changes to the wording, order of the documents, and name of the investigator taking responsibility. Now, just as back then, the charges are baseless and without merit. This action taken by the State’s prosecutors is in violation of both Russian and international law, and it would be difficult to find any precedent in the history of the Russian Federation of such unusual measures.I believe that the only thing “new” about these charges is the deplorable illegality of the prosecutor’s conduct.Second, there is a strong political reason for bringing these charges within the first 100 days of the new presidential administration. The artificiality of the process is magnified by the recent report that the entire preliminary investigative period has terminated after 72 hours. There has also been much discussion of the possibility of parole in the Russian press. Can one doubt about the timing of these recycled charges?Observers of the Khodorkovsky case are being asked to suspend an especially burdensome disbelief by the procuracy. It is simply not credible nor realistic to claim that supposedly “new” criminal charges against the defendant were discovered during the five years he has already spent unlawfully incarcerated. The illogical nature of the state’s approach to this case reveals a clear agenda outside the administering of justice.The entire process, the media should note, has been characterized by a lack of due process that is nothing short of a sham, underscoring precisely the problem of “legal nihilism” in the Russian justice system that the president has said must be eliminated. In my 30 years experience in the courts of emerging market countries, I can think of few other heads of state to make such sweeping critiques of the previous administration as the new president of RussiaIt was a startling acknowledgment. The events of the last few days powerfully highlight the importance and urgency of these reformist goals.These are difficult and unpredictable days in terms of justice and rule and law in Russia, and there have naturally been no shortage of speculative theories from a variety of voices with regard to what these latest developments. I do not believe that anyone can speak with absolute authority about what is going to happen in this case – not me, nor even the head of the Investigative Committee. It is important to remember that the Russian government is not the unitary, cohesive state that it sometimes may appear, and it is rarely guided by consensus opinion.What we do know is that political will exists to make strong reforms to Russia’s legal system, reduce the role of the state in legal decisions, and build rule of law. These promises have been made, and the Khodorkovsky case is the definitive litmus test for that initiative.