A strident exchange of official statements between the United States and Russia has followed in the wake of the guilty verdict for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russian businessman convicted of embezzling billions of dollars worth of oil money.
On Monday, Mr. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were found guilty of siphoning and then laundering money from their oil company Yukos. Shortly after the verdict was announced U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Today's conviction in the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky... raises serious questions about selective prosecution — and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations.”
Ms. Clinton said such cases had a negative impact on Russia's reputation for fulfilling its international human rights obligations and improving its investment climate. The U.S. would be monitoring the appeals process, she said.
The White House issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” at the conviction. In a strongly-worded reaction, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “We are troubled by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends.”
According to reports Moscow however hit back at the critical reaction from the U.S. and other Western countries such as Germany, with the Russian Foreign Ministry posting a statement on its website saying, “Attempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable... We expect everyone to mind his own business, both at home and in the international arena.”
Mr. Gibbs also noted that U.S. President Barack Obama had spoken frequently with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev about the Khodorkovsky and other cases as part of their ongoing conversation about Mr. Medvedev's campaign to strengthen the rule of law and modernise Russia's political and economic system.
Echoing Ms. Clinton's words he added, that the White House would continue to monitor the next stages, “including the fairness of the sentences and the review by higher courts during the appeals process”.
Yet the Russian Foreign Ministry website reportedly contested U.S. allegations of “selective justice,” arguing that such assertions were, “groundless.”
Earlier, Chairman of Russia's Lower House of Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev dismissed concerns expressed by Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyers that the verdict was the result of official pressure. He was quoted as saying, “I understand perfectly well that this is a very spectacular case and many questions may arise. But I have to respect the decision by the court, as a loyal citizen of Russia.”
As he awaits sentencing, Mr. Khodorkovsky is already serving out an eight-year prison sentence from a 2005 trial over fraud and tax evasion charges.