The guilty verdict against the tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was ordered from above and written by a judge who did not try the case.
The guilty verdict against the oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was ordered from above and written by a judge who did not try the case, a Russian court official who worked on the recent trial has said.
Natalya Vasilyeva, in an interview she claimed was certain to spell the end of her career, said: “I can say that all of legal society understands perfectly well that this is a made-to-order case, a made-to-order trial.”
Vasilyeva was assistant to Viktor Danilkin, the judge who in December found Khodorkovsky guilty of theft and money laundering in the second case against the billionaire, who has been in jail on fraud charges since 2003.
The tycoon’s lawyers and supporters have repeatedly denounced the trial as a farce, alleging that Danilkin—who extended the prison sentence until 2017—had been put under pressure by the Kremlin.
Vasilyeva’s interview—published in Gazeta.ru, a respected liberal online news portal, and shown on TV Rain, a cable channel said to be close to the liberal circle around President Dmitry Medvedev—marks the first time someone from the court that tried the case has spoken out against the trial.
Vasilyeva said Danilkin was required to seek approval for every step he made during the 20-month trial with the Moscow city court. That included the writing of the verdict, which was initially set to be handed down on December 15.
“Danilkin began to write the verdict,” Vasilyeva said. “I suspect that what was in the verdict didn’t suit the higher authorities. And that’s why he got a different sentence, which he then had to read out.”
“That the sentence was brought from the Moscow city court, I know for absolute certain,” she added.
The reading of the verdict was delayed until December 27 so higher court authorities could write the new verdict, she said.
Danilkin was summoned to the Moscow city court on December and 25 when he returned to his courthouse looked “very stressed”, Vasilieva said, citing people who saw him that day. “He might have been physically ill and was clearly very depressed,” she said, noting he had earlier shown signs of developing heart trouble.
She said Danilkin had become a changed man after the reading of the verdict. “He’s become withdrawn, he’s depressed and just sad.”
Shortly after the interview was released, Danilkin described its contents as slander.
“I firmly believe that Natalya Vasilyeva’s statement was no more than libel which can be refuted in an order established by the law,” the judge told the state news agency, ITAR-Tass.
Anna Usachyova, a spokesperson for the Moscow city court, said Vasilyeva had resigned before giving the interview and questioned her motives. “Natalya Vasilieva’s statement is a provocation. It’s clear straight away that the girl is unfamiliar with the procedural foundations of the law,” Usachyova told RIA-Novosti, another state-run news agency. “Judge Danilkin heard the case for two years and could only write the verdict himself.”
Vasilyeva said she was certain she would be fired after coming forward, and also said she feared for the fate of the judge. Explaining why she chose to speak out, she said it was because she was disillusioned. “I wanted to become a judge,” she said. “But when I saw its internal workings, how everything happens, then the fairytale that the judge is answerable only to the law and nothing else melted away.
Corrupt legal system
“I wanted people to understand that a lot of what is told to them is cleaned up and fixed up and doesn’t always correspond to reality.”
Critics of the Kremlin have held up the case against Khodorkovsky as a prime example of Russia’s corrupt legal system. Medvedev, a former lawyer, has vowed to reform it but has taken few concrete steps to do so.
Khodorkovsky’s supporters insist the case against him was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin, now prime minister. They have appealed the latest verdict. State prosecutors have hinted that they might seek a third set of charges against Khodorkovsky, which would extend his sentence even further.
Yet in recent weeks, Medvedev has ordered his human rights council, an advisory body, to look into several high-profile cases, including the one against the jailed oil tycoon.
Some analysts have posited a split between the circles surrounding Medvedev and Putin as Russia gears up for a presidential election early next year.
Yury Schmidt, one of Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, welcomed the interview. “This is a woman speaking the truth,” he said. “I don’t see any other reasons for it.”
Khodorkovsky has been in jail on fraud charges since 2003. - guardian.co.uk