Khodorkovsky Says Medvedev Could Reform Judicial System

Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky said in his first interview since President Dmitry Medvedev's election that he was cautiously optimistic about the new president's desire to overhaul the country's notoriously corrupt legal system.

Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence on charges of fraud and tax evasion, made the comments in an interview with The Sunday Times from the prison facility in Chita where he is awaiting trial on new charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

Khodorkovsky declined to comment on whether he would seek a presidential pardon from Medvedev, a lawyer by training.

"The outcome of my case depends on the speed with which reform to the judicial system, which Medvedev has said he wants, will take place," Khodorkovsky said in the interview. "In an independent court only a complete idiot would swallow the kind of case brought against me. Unfortunately, reforms don't happen overnight, but some steps taken by Medvedev's team are cause for cautious optimism."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in March that any question of pardoning Khodorkovsky would fall to Medvedev. By law, Khodorkovsky would have to admit his guilt in any appeal to the president for a pardon. Khodorkovsky maintains his innocence.

Khodorkovsky said in the interview that he believed Medvedev might eventually gain independence from Putin, his mentor since the two served in the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office in the early 1990s.

"For a while, Medvedev will be held back by his personal obligation to Putin," Khodorkovsky said.

Medvedev has issued several calls to crack down on the country's "legal nihilism."

Khodorkovsky reiterated claims that Igor Sechin, Rosneft board chairman and now a deputy prime minister, had orchestrated the campaign against him and Yukos.