A Moscow court on Tuesday rejected an appeal request by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, removing the jailed oil tycoon’s last recourse to avoiding a second lengthy prison term.
The decision came at the end of a daylong hearing, broadcast live on the Internet, that saw Khodorkovsky and his lawyers angrily challenge Russia’s notoriously corrupt legal system. Khodorkovsky’s appeal to the court was a shadow of the manifesto he delivered in November, at the end of his two-year trial on charges of money laundering and embezzlement. He was eventually found guilty and remanded into prison through 2017.
On Tuesday, prosecutors argued that Khodorkovsky stole less oil than previously thought, and the judge reduced the sentence by one year.
Khodorkovsky was due to leave prison at the end of this year, after serving eight years on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Many believe the second trial was designed to keep the outspoken former oligarch in prison, especially as Russia prepares for elections, both parliamentary and presidential. A 2017 release would come on the eve of Russia’s subsequent presidential vote.
Speaking to the court Tuesday morning, Khodorkovsky veered between anger and laughter, as he recounted what he called the absurd charges against him. He walked through the grounds for appeal, but whenever he veered into grand statements about the state of justice in Russia, the judge implored: “Let’s stick to the matter at hand please.”
Speaking about the verdict, Khodorkovsky said: “In what dusty cellar did they dig up that poisonous Stalinist spider who wrote this drivel? What kind of long-term investments can one talk about with such justice?” Dmitry Medvedev’s much-touted modernization has no chance of succeeding without justice reform, he said.
In a failed tactic he attempted to use during his trial, Khodorkovsky appealed directly to the judge, asking him not to take part in a corrupt system, noting that he knew his fate would not be decided in that courtroom. “There is no way to correct this verdict. Either overturn and terminate this shamefulness or join the ranks of the criminals, who spit on the law.” The judge appeared unamused.
Khodorkovsky’s lawyers said they planned to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Khodorkovsky served the bulk of his first sentence in Chita, around 3,000 miles east of Moscow. His lawyers say he, and his co-defendant and ex-business partner Platon Lebedev, will be transferred to prison within 10 days, according to Russian law.