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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Rejects Khodorkovsky Appeal

APKhodorkovsky standing in the defendant's cage during the appeal hearing in the Moscow City Court on Thursday.
The Moscow City Court late Thursday rejected Mikhail Khodorkovsky's appeal in a marathon 11-hour session, cutting short his campaign for a State Duma seat before it even began.

The three-judge panel reduced his sentence -- and that of his business partner Platon Lebedev -- from nine years to eight.

"The punishment will come into force," Chief Judge Vyacheslav Tarasov said. "The hearing is over. I ask the guards to take the convicted man away."

As Khodorkovsky was led out, he looked pale but waved at supporters. His parents, Boris and Marina, watched with teary eyes.

"This sentence was written on Oct. 25, 2003," Marina Khodorkovskaya said, referring to the day her son was arrested in a dawn raid by gun-toting special forces at a Siberian airport.

Later, in the darkness outside the heavily guarded courthouse in northeastern Moscow, Boris Khodorkovsky quietly remarked, "From nine to eight. ... I won't live that long."

It was not immediately clear where Khodorkovsky, 42, would be sent next. Under Russian law, once an appeal is exhausted, a prisoner serves the rest of his term in a prison colony. Khodorkovsky's lawyer Yury Shmidt said his client would be sent to a prison not far from Moscow.

Shmidt, however, could not say when. "There had been reports in the past that the Prosecutor General's Office was planning to bring more charges," Shmidt said. "So who knows?"

State prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin refused to comment on the possibility of further charges after the court session concluded at about 9 p.m.

The ruling ends Khodorkovsky's attempts to defend himself against a legal onslaught that is widely believed to be Kremlin punishment for his political and business ambitions.

It also quashed any chance that Khodorkovsky had of running for a seat in the State Duma in a Moscow by-election in December. Once a convicted prisoner's appeal is rejected, he can no longer run.

The judges handed down their ruling before elections officials received Khodorkovsky's official application to run, which he mailed from his cell in the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center last week.

Shmidt said the ruling was rushed through to ensure that Khodorkovsky's election bid failed. "I'm sure the letter will arrive tomorrow," he said. "Veshnyakov will say, 'We would have tried to register him, but now it's impossible.'" Alexander Veshnyakov is the chief of the Central Elections Commission.

In a two-hour speech to the court, Khodorkovsky said the case against him had been engineered by a group of Kremlin bureaucrats out to gain control of his Yukos oil company. "Kremlin bureaucrats come and go. Those who are currently breaking up Yukos will also not be here forever. In a few years, they will move to the West for quiet retirement," he said from the padlocked glass-and-metal defendant's cage.

"I had hoped there would be justice, but there isn't any," he said as he wrapped up his address.

As Khodorkovsky spoke, the judges appeared anxious to deliver their ruling. At 7:20 p.m., about an hour into Khodorkovsky's speech, Tarasov interrupted him, saying, "We have all the documents. We're actually ready to deliver the ruling." Nonetheless, the judges waited until Khodorkovsky finished and later read out their ruling in a period of a few minutes.

Shmidt called the decision "an abuse of the law, of lawyers and of the defendant."

"The decision to reduce the sentence by one year is a pure propaganda ploy designed to show the impartiality of the court," he said. "The state has ordered this, and the order has been fulfilled."

After the ruling was read out, Shokhin told reporters that it was "fair, well-founded and just." During his closing argument, he had lashed out at the defense lawyers and said they had tried to "create the image of a martyr."

Earlier, the judges threw out Khodorkovsky's request for more time to study the 600-page trial record, which he said was shot through with misleading errors on every page. "I understand the task given to the court. I will be held in jail as long as the fear of opposition outweighs conscience," Khodorkovsky said, before being interrupted by Tarasov.

"These are political issues," Tarasov said. "This is an ordinary case, an ordinary criminal case."

Shmidt called for the judges to be dismissed, saying they were biased and pressured by third parties into delivering a quick ruling. In Russian courts, it is the judges themselves who rule on whether they are fit to serve. So after a short break to consult with his fellow judges, Alexei Marinenko and Svetlana Lokhmachyova, Tarasov dismissed Shmidt's complaint as groundless.

Throughout the day, Khodorkovsky's lawyers complained that the judges were rushing through the hearings at what they called breakneck speed. The trial lasted 11 months, and the reading of the verdict in May lasted a record 12 days.

Shmidt also brought up the political aspect of the case. "What we are dealing with here is not the prosecutors or the judges, it is the full weight of the state machine. The political authorities are dictating what is going on here," he said.

Tarasov, however, had little patience for Shmidt's remarks. "Shmidt, we are hearing a criminal case, not politics ... a normal criminal case," he said.

The judges only began hearing the appeal Thursday, after a week of stop-start wrangling between themselves, Khodorkovsky and his lawyers over when the appeal could start. Until Thursday, the only lawyer Khodorkovsky had authorized to defend him, Genrikh Padva, had been hospitalized.

Shmidt said the defense team would continue to work on the case but offered no details.

It was also unclear Thursday what, if anything, would happen to Khodorkovsky's Duma campaign. His supporters have pledged to hold independent "people's elections," regardless of whether Khodorkovsky was allowed to run, and encourage supporters to write in his name on the ballot if he was not. Following the ruling, his campaign chief, Ivan Starikov, said he was still considering the options.

Khodorkovsky supporters will either put up one of two alternate candidates, or push ahead with holding the people's elections, he said.