- Associated Press - Friday, December 31, 2010

MOSCOW (AP) — A lawyer for jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Friday appealed his sentence of six more years in prison, a punishment seen as payback for challenging Vladimir Putin’s power and which was widely condemned in the West.

Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Karinna Moskalenko told the Associated Press she launched the appeal on the final work day before a 10-day New Year vacation. She said Khodorkovsky’s conviction on charges of stealing almost $30 billion worth of oil from his company and laundering the proceeds was marred by procedural violations.

“The verdict has nothing to do with justice,” she said.

Khodorkovsky’s business partner Platon Lebedev received the same sentence Thursday and his lawyer also appealed the verdict.

The ruling drew strong condemnation from the U.S. and European governments, who called it evidence of the use of Russia’s judicial system for political ends.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday dismissed the Western criticism as unfounded. “Russian courts are independent from both Russian and foreign governments,” he said.

However, Mikhail Fedotov, the head of human rights council in Russia, said it would likely form a panel to study the verdict. He said it would report its conclusions to President Dmitry Medvedev, but would only release its findings after the appeals run their course.

Ms. Moskalenko said she had expected the guilty verdict and has little hope for success of her appeal, but added that it’s necessary to use every opportunity in Russia before turning to the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Putin, now prime minister, has been seen as the driving force behind the unrelenting legal attack on Khodorkovsky, who challenged him early in his presidency. As Mr. Putin considers a return to the presidency in 2012, he appears unwilling to risk the possibility that a freed Khodorkovsky could help lead his political foes.

The judge sentenced Khodorkovsky to 14 years, as prosecutors had demanded, and said the new term will be counted from his 2003 arrest and end in 2017.

The trial had been seen as a test of the rule of law in Russia, and its outcome exposed how little has changed under Mr. Medvedev, despite his promises to strengthen the courts’ independence and shield them from political pressure.

The defense has said the charges reflected a lack of understanding of the oil business, including the payment of transit fees and export duties. Numerous witnesses, including current and former government officials, testified that Khodorkovsky could not have stolen what amounted to almost all of the oil Yukos had produced.

The charges also contradicted the first trial, in which Khodorkovsky was convicted of evading taxes on Yukos profits. His eight-year sentence in that case had been set to end in 2011.