Moscow court sentences Khodorkovsky to 13.5 years

Thursday, December 30, 2010

MOSCOW - Russian oil billionaire Mikhail Khordokovsky was sentenced Thursday to 13.5 years in prison for stealing oil and laundering the proceeds, with the nearly eight years that he has already been behind bars to be credited, Interfax reported.

That would likely keep Khodorkovsky, a prominent Kremlin critic, in prison until around 2017.

The prosecution had demanded a six-year prison term, after initially seeking 15 years.

The trial of the arch-foe of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has drawn major international criticism, with allegations that it was politically motivated and an attempt to sideline the rich and influential businessman prior to the 2012 presidential elections.

Judge Viktor Danilkin Monday had, to all intents and purposes, convicted Khodorkovsky and his former business partner, Platon Lebedev, of the theft of 218 million tonnes of oil between 1999 and 2003 and money laundering.

But the judge has had to spend the days since reading out the entire verdict, which is at least 800 pages long.

The sentencing had been expected on New Year’s Eve, with critics suggesting that the government is planning to exploit the fact that the first 10 days of January are national holidays in Russia - with no newspapers published - to avoid overt criticism of the verdict.

Observers had theorised that a lesser sentence could be in the wings Thursday, after Danilkin spoke of “large quantities” of stolen oil instead of the “very large quantities” that had previously been mentioned.

Danilkin had, however, also made clear that a suspended sentence was out of the question.

He said that a separate civil proceeding would decide over possible damages.

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