Former head of the Yukos oil giant Mikhail Khodorkovsky slammed prosecution claims as his new trial for embezzlement wound down on Tuesday, adjourning until an expected Dec. 15 verdict. Khodorkovsky went on trial on new charges in March 2009.
AP - Jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave an impassioned final address to a Moscow court Tuesday, telling the judge that the fate of the entire nation rests on the verdict he is to deliver Dec. 15.
In his last words to the court before proceedings were adjourned until verdict day, Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man, also said he was ready to die in prison, insisting that “my faith is worth my life.”
Khodorkovsky, 47, was arrested in 2003 on charges of tax evasion by his now-defunct oil company, Yukos, and the eight-year sentence he received was widely seen as punishment for his decision to challenge the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, by funding opposition parties and dangling jewels of the Russian economy in front of foreign investors.
Khodorkovsky is a year from release but is being tried on a second raft of fraud and embezzlement charges that could keep him behind bars until 2017. He and his business partner Platon Lebedev are accused of stealing more than 218 million tons of oil -- worth some $27 billion -- produced by Yukos from 1998 to 2003.
In a closing address before Judge Viktor Danilkin adjourned the trial until Dec. 15, verdict day, Khodorkovsky told him that his decision would have significant repercussions.
“Your honor, you’re deciding the fate of more than two people; the fate of every citizen of our country is at stake,” Khodorkovsky, dressed in a black polo shirt, said unwaveringly to a stony-faced Danilkin.
“It’s not me and Platon Lebedev who are now standing trial, it’s all the Russian people.”
Critics charge the second case is designed to keep Khodorkovsky incarcerated at least until after Russia’s 2012 presidential election, in which Putin could take part. The case is being closely watched to gauge whether Russia has strengthened its commitment to the rule of law as President Dmitry Medvedev has promised.
“Milions of eyes are following this trial across Russia and whole world,” Khodorkovsky said. “They hope that Russia will become a country of freedom and law, and that law will prevail over bureacrats and support for opposition parties will not lead to repression.”
Khodorkovsky alluded to the atmosphere of intimidation that pervades the country’s judiciary.
“I can understand you must be feeling scared now,” Khodorkovsky told Danilkin. “I wish you courage.”
He said prison life was hard.
“I don’t want to die there,” Khodorkosvky said. “But if that is what is needed, I have no hesitation.”
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were driven from the courtroom in an armored van following the two-hour hearing, and a handful of supporters chanted “Freedom! Freedom!”