Russian court orders review of Khodorkovsky convictions

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's supreme court on Wednesday agreed to review the two sets of convictions against Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky following his surprise early release from prison and lightning transfer to Germany.

Russia's former richest man was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin last week just eight months before his scheduled release after more than a decade behind bars.

Mr Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2003 and convicted in 2005 of fraud and tax evasion linked to his time as boss of the now-defunct private oil giant Yukos.

He and co-defendant Platon Lebedev were sentenced again in 2010 on money laundering and embezzlement charges that were presented shortly before both were set to be released.

Mr Khodorkovsky's supporters in Russia and abroad have long accused the trials of being politically motivated, saying Mr Khodorkovsky was being punished for using his wealth to finance the opposition.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in July that the first set of charges against Mr Khodorkovsky and his business associate "had a sound basis, but the hearing of their case was unfair, and their placement in remote penal colonies unjustified." A spokesman for Russia's highest court said on Wednesday that a review of both the 2005 and 2010 convictions of the two men will be conducted within the next two months.

"Supreme Court chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev has requested a review by the court's presidium in light of new circumstances that emerged... in connection with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights" on the first case, supreme court spokesman Pavel Odintsov told AFP.

He added that the attorneys' request to review the 2010 court case has also been taken up.

"Formally, this should be reviewed within the next two months, but I think it is actually going to happen much sooner," the court spokesman said.

Mr Khodorkovsky arrived in Berlin on Friday from his penal colony near Russia's Arctic Circle following more than two years of mediation between the Kremlin and Germany's former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

The 50-year-old has said he will stay out of Russia for as long as a court order for him to pay US$550 million (S$698 million) in damages remained in place.

Mr Khodorkovsky on Tuesday applied for a three-month Schengen visa to travel to Switzerland where his twin sons go to school.

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