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Khodorkovsky Could Get Pardon

The chief lawyer for jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Friday that his client could be pardoned under a traditional May 9 presidential amnesty to coincide with the celebrations marking the end of World War II.

Genrikh Padva, the head of Khodorkovsky's defense team, voiced the hope in the wake of last week's request by prosecutors that Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev be sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzlement, fraud, tax evasion and other charges related to Yukos.

The sentencing request is the final chapter in the nine-month criminal trial against Khodorkovsky, which has been widely seen as a Kremlin response to his funding opposition political parties in the run-up to the 2003 State Duma elections. Khodorkovsky -- once Russia's wealthiest man -- has been in jail since October 2003.

A separate legal assault against Yukos itself has resulted in Russia's No. 1 crude producer being dismantled and partly renationalized to pay off a disputed $28 billion tax bill.

Khodorkovsky's legal team has said the prosecutors' request last week was no surprise and they maintain that the final verdict, expected in May, will be decided not by the court but by the Kremlin.

For that reason, Padva said President Vladimir Putin might pardon Khodorkovsky as part of the May 9 Victory Day celebrations.

"Theoretically, of course, it is possible if [the amnesty] is broad enough and if there are no limitations specifically concerning them," Padva said in televised comments outside the courthouse.

The Kremlin declined to comment, directing questions to the Prosecutor General's Office, which is responsible for implementing presidential pardons. A spokeswoman there refused to comment, saying that the Duma was charged with approving pardons. The Duma press office did not answer phones Friday afternoon.

Christopher Granville, head of research at United Financial Group, said pardoning Khodorkovsky at a time when dozens of world leaders will be in Moscow attending the 60th anniversary war celebrations would be a public relations coup.

"Instead of a punitive approach to Khodorkovsky, I think it would be perfectly realistic to have him a convicted felon but have him on the street," he said.

"Putin has achieved his goals: Khodorkovsky no longer has the means to try and privatize the state again," Granville said.

Putin has been stepping up efforts to regain investor confidence. Two weeks ago, he instructed the government to streamline muddled tax legislation and draft a moratorium on investigations into Russia's shady privatizations.

(The Moscow Times 04.iv.05)

 
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