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Canadian Defense Lawyer Expelled

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Canadian-born lawyer was expelled from Russia on Friday and prosecutors demanded that three of his Russian lawyers be disbarred for "dragging out" his appeal.

Five men went to Robert Amsterdam's hotel room at the Hyatt Ararat in central Moscow at about 1 a.m. and confiscated his passport, said the lawyer, who holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship. Two hours later, the passport was returned with its visa revoked, and Amsterdam was told to leave the country within 24 hours or face arrest.

The expulsion came just hours after the Moscow City Court rejected Khodorkovsky's appeal in a marathon 11-hour hearing Thursday. The ruling ended the jailed oil tycoon's bid for a State Duma seat in a December by-election.

Amsterdam said the men identified themselves as being from the Federal Migration Service's visa and passport department.

"Five guys showed up at 1 a.m., banging on the door, screaming, 'Police! Police!' and asked for my passport," Amsterdam said by telephone Friday afternoon as he headed for Sheremetyevo Airport, where he caught a 5 p.m. flight to London.

When told they only wanted to ask him questions, Amsterdam at first refused. "I told them, 'I've seen that movie before,'" he said.

After calling the U.S. and Canadian embassies, Amsterdam said he decided to hand over his passport, realizing that "resistance was futile."

"I told them, 'This is political.' I laughed and they laughed, and at that point everyone knew this was a game."

Amsterdam said he saw his expulsion as motivated by the role he had played in publicizing Khodorkovsky's case in the West.

The Interior Ministry's visa and passport department on Friday denied it had revoked the visa, while a spokesman for the FSB also denied any involvement.

"No visa has been canceled for any lawyer or any person involved in the legal profession in Russia," said Konstantin Romodanovsky, head of the Federal Migration Service, Interfax reported. "It is true that the visas of some people in commerce have been annulled, but they were not Khodorkovsky's lawyers."

Another lawyer on Khodorkovsky's team, Karina Moskalenko, said Friday that the men who took Amsterdam's passport claimed it had been revoked because he failed to turn up at the Russian company that sent him the invitation for an entry visa.

Throughout Khodorkovsky's trial, Amsterdam acted as the defense team's main spokesman for the Western media. He is expected to take a lead role in any appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Prosecutor General's Office on Friday called for Khodorkovsky's lawyers to be disbarred for "breaching lawyers' ethics" by disobeying a court order to represent Khodorkovsky in his appeal earlier in the week, when chief defense lawyer Genrikh Padva was hospitalized.

"We sent a letter to the Justice Ministry requesting the removal of lawyer status from all of Khodorkovsky's lawyers," Vishnyakova told reporters. "All of them made serious efforts to drag out the process."

The Moscow Bar Association on Friday was considering whether to disbar Anton Drel, Denis Dyatlov and Yelena Levina, Interfax reported. Judges told the three lawyers to represent Khodorkovsky in court last Monday, but they refused, saying they were not authorized to act on his behalf and that they were unfamiliar with the details of the appeal.

The start of the appeal was delayed for a week as Khodorkovsky refused to appoint a replacement for Padva, saying that he was the only one of his lawyers who had studied the entire 600-page trial record.

The delay infuriated prosecutors and the judges, who accused Khodorkovsky and his lawyers of deliberately delaying the appeal.

Drel accused the authorities of vindictiveness. "This is the petty revenge of the politicians that make such decisions and ... an attempt to remove lawyers' livelihood," Drel said, Reuters reported. "This is also aimed at depriving Khodorkovsky of his legal team as, if we can't practice, then we can't represent him."

Vishnyakova said that Thursday's ruling, which also reduced the sentences for Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev from nine years to eight, placed a "full stop" over the case.

She declined to say whether any new charges would be brought. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are to be transferred to a prison colony within the next 10 days, Interfax reported.

In May, prosecutors said Khodorkovsky would probably be charged with money laundering.

"We will definitely announce all that is necessary regarding this question, but let's not rush," Vishnyakova said.

Vishnyakova sought to downplay the significance of the two-year-long case, which has raised questions about the investment climate and property rights.

"There's no need to make the crime of the century ... out of a banal criminal case of theft," Vishnyakova said.

Lawyers for Khodorkovsky said he and Lebedev would be making appeals to the Supreme Court and also to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Khodorkovsky said in a statement Friday that the handling of his appeal showed "the authorities are afraid of me."

(The Moscow Times 26.ix.05)

 
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