Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Russian ex-tycoon Khodorkovsky threatens hunger strike


Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky threatened a hunger strike until President Dmitry Medvedev acknowledges that the state is violating the law when it comes to the conditions of his detention.

Jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in a court room behind a glass wall in Moscow, May 12. Khodorkovsky has gone on a hunger strike to draw attention to what he claims in his opened letter, published Tuesday, are improper court rulings against suspects charged with white-collar crimes.

By Fred Weir,
Jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said he will go on a hunger strike until Russian President Dmitry Medvedev explains why a newly-passed law isn't being implemented in his case.

.Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, said his client is addressing the president because a law specifically championed by Mr. Medvedev and signed by him last month is being openly flouted by a Moscow court.

"It seems the life our president lives, and the initiatives he announces, do not even cross paths with the lives led by the rest of us," Mr. Klyuvgant says. "(The Moscow court) is committing an act of sabotage by simply ignoring a law signed by the president of this country."

In an open letter published on his defense committee's Website Tuesday, Khodorkovsky said that he should be eligible for temporary release given a new law that banned holding suspects in white-collar crimes at pre-trial detention centers. Russia's network of such centers, known as SIZOs, have come under intense scrutiny since the unexplained death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow SIZO last year.

"I declare a hunger strike until I have confirmation that Dmitry Medvedev has received from you or another relevant official full information on the violation" of the law, Khodorkovsky said in his open letter. "I think it is critically important for President Medvedev to know exactly how the law he initiated is being observed – or rather flouted – by state officials... If the president agrees that the laws signed by him and passed by the parliament may be flouted by courts and other state officials as they see fit, I will submit to my current situation."

Khodorkovsky is currently lodged in a notorious Moscow SIZO while his second trial on charges of embezzlement and money-laundering drags on in a Moscow court room.

He has already served seven years of an eight-year sentence handed down following his 2003 arrest for similar crimes. The subsequent prosecution saw Khodorkovsky's oil empire Yukos dismantled and handed over to state-run oil companies

Many of Khodorkovsky's former aides and associates were also targeted for prosecution and imprisoned.

Critics have consistently argued that Khodorkovsky was singled out for prosecution because he supported opposition politicians and openly challenged then-President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin, who continues to hold extraordinary power as prime minister, has often publicly attacked Khodorkovsky as a "common criminal" whose trial and imprisonment were carried out according to a properly conducted legal process.

When Medvedev, Putin's hand-picked successor, arrived in the Kremlin two years ago, many of Russia's beleaguered liberals hoped that he would review Khodorkovsky's case or take steps to end the Putin-era Kremlin's campaign to subordinate business to political control.

But last year, as Khodorkovsky's first period of imprisonment was drawing to a close, Russian prosecutors announced a second case against him stemming from the original charges, that could see him stuck in prison for the next two decades.

Khodorkovsky's decision to go on hunger strike, analysts say, is a direct challenge to Medvedev to separate himself from the Putin era and enforce the laws that he himself has sponsored.

"Khodorkovsky is making it necessary for Medvedev to define his position," says Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the independent Institute for Strategic Studies in Moscow. "His challenge is very clever, legally and politically. He isn't demanding that he be freed, rather just for confirmation that Medvedev has been made aware of his case. . . The ball is now in Medvedev's court. Will he choose to follow the logic of the law, and risk a damaging split with Putin? He will have to make a choice, and that could determine Medvedev's own political future."

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