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Khodorkovsky verdict product of coercion: judge's assistant

Russian Judge Viktor Danilkin, who convicted [JURIST report] former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website profile; JURIST news archive] of money-laundering and embezzlement in December, did not write the verdict and was coerced into reading it [interview text, in Russian], Danilkin's assistant said Monday. Natalya Vasilyeva made the allegations in an interview she gave to Gazeta.ru website [official website] and the TV channel Dozjd. According to Vasilyeva, Danilkin, a judge for the Khamovnichesky District Court [official website, in Russian], was pressured and coached by officials from the Moscow City Court. "When something happened, when something went wrong, he had a duty to provide information to the Moscow City Court and, accordingly, received certain instructions on how to behave," she said. At the end of the trial, Danilkin wrote a verdict, but Vasilyeva said it probably "did not satisfy the higher ups" and he was therefore given a different verdict, which he was ordered to issue. Danilkin has responded to Vasilyeva's comments calling them slander [RFE/RL report].

In December, Danilkin sentenced [JURIST report] Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense website profile; JURIST news archive], to six additional years in prison, extending their imprisonment to a total of 14 years. Their defense counsel staunchly criticized the ruling, claiming [press release] that the court blocked significant amounts of testimony and evidence submitted by the defense and systematically quashed objections to their omission. The verdict drew vehement international criticism [JURIST report], including from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], who said [press release] that the ruling "raises serious questions about selective prosecution." The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] dismissed critics, saying [press release, in Russian] that "[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable." The men are currently serving eight-year prison sentences for fraud and tax evasion [JURIST report], to which they were sentenced in 2005 for the same money laundering from Yukos. In May, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty.

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