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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ex-Yukos Lawyer Granted Parole

MTBakhmina's lawyer Roman Golovkin displaying the judge's order to free his client outside the courtroom Tuesday.
A Moscow court on Tuesday granted parole to former Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, a mother of three whom supporters call a political prisoner ensnared in authorities' attack on what was once the country's leading oil company.

The Preobrazhensky District Court granted early release to Bakhmina, 39, who was serving a 6 1/2-year term after being convicted in April 2006 on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion.

She is one of several senior Yukos officials to be jailed since the company came under fire in 2003. Her bid to be released has become a cause celebre among prominent liberals and has even been backed by Kremlin supporters.

Several members of the Public Chamber have called for her release, as has former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Bakhmina was not present in court Tuesday. She and her infant daughter remained in a Moscow region hospital Tuesday, her lawyers and friends said.

Judge Irina Vyrysheva was visibly flustered at Tuesday's hearing after Bakhmina's lawyer, Semyon Ariya, handed her a photograph of Bakhmina and her two young sons. Blushing, Vyrysheva said she could not consider the picture in her ruling.

"This is a case that dishonors Russia," Ariya told the courtroom before the ruling.

Prosecutors made no attempt to argue against Bakhmina's parole, requesting, in fact, that she be released.

"The prosecution is not going to appeal the court's decision," state prosecutor Anton Davydov said.

Ruling that Bakhmina has served more than half of her prison term — four years and four months — showed good behavior and repented, Vyrysheva announced that the former Yukos lawyer was "no longer a threat to society."

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Judge Vyrysheva announcing Tuesday that Bakhmina was "no longer a threat to society" and would receive parole.

Her ruling was met with bursts of applause in the cramped courtroom, which was packed with reporters and photographers.

Bakhmina had appealed twice for parole, in May and September, and was rejected both times.

She applied for a presidential pardon on Oct. 20 but later withdrew her petition for unclear reasons. In November, she was moved from Mordovia to a maternity hospital in the Moscow region, where she gave birth to a daughter, Anna.

A friend and former colleague of Bakhmina, Denis Silyutin, said Bakhmina was to leave the Moscow region hospital, where she has been staying under guard with her daughter, Tuesday evening.

"I think over the course of the next several days she will want to talk to the press," Silyutin said. "She has a 5-month-old child."

After her release, Bakhmina plans to continue her legal work with an organization called "Systemic Support of Business," Silyutin, who works in the organization, told The Moscow Times outside the courtroom.

"For now, she is on maternity leave," Silyutin said.

Bakhmina's lawyers did not exclude the possibility that she could appear as a witness in the new trial of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is currently being tried on embezzlement charges in Moscow's Khamovnichesky District Court. (Related story, page 2).

Khodorkovsky's lawyers told reporters Tuesday that Bakhmina's former boss was happy to hear that she had been paroled, RIA-Novosti reported.

"I'm happy. But I still feel morally responsible for the fate of this woman," Khodorkovsky said in comments relayed by his lawyers, RIA-Novosti said.

The fate of Bakhmina has been seen by many observers of the country's ruling elite as a bellwether for a possible liberalization in the country's political landscape.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may have given informal approval for Bakhmina's parole, but it is too early to determine whether her release is a sign of a broader trend, said Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

Only after the second trial of Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, can conclusions be drawn about the possibility of a liberal drift, Ryabov said.