BY VOA NEWS – The White House says it is deeply concerned about Monday’s guilty verdict for jailed former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, on embezzlement and money laundering charges.
A spokesman issued a statement Monday, saying the White House is troubled by alleged serious violations of the due process of law and the possible abuse of the legal system for what it called improper ends.
The statement says Russia’s failure to commit to universal values, including the rule of law, impedes its modernization and ability to deepen ties with the United States.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, and Lebedev were charged with stealing oil and laundering $27 billion in proceeds.
They are both about to complete 8-year prison terms for earlier charges of fraud and tax evasion. Defense lawyers say they will appeal the new verdicts.
Khodorkovsky has denied all the charges.
Khodorkovsky and his backers say he is being punished for backing opposition candidates and critics of former president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Khodorkovsky is the former head of the Yukos oil company, which the Kremlin seized from him, declared it bankrupt, and sold off its assets.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called Monday’s verdict “a step backward” for Russia’s democracy. Britain’s Foreign Office and the European Union both issued statements calling on Moscow to respect the rule of law.
U.S. diplomats a year ago described Russia’s attempts to show the rule of law was being respected in Khodorkovsky’s case as nothing more than “lipstick on a pig” .
According to a 2009 classified U.S. diplomatic cable released byWikiLeaks to The Guardian newspaper, the ongoing trial was a “superficial rule-of-law gloss to a cynical system where political enemies are eliminated with impunity.”