- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

The upcoming trial of Russian oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky is politically motivated and should be strongly condemned by the United States and Europe, two American lawyers for the jailed executive said yesterday.

“This is a major geopolitical event,” said Robert R. Amsterdam, a member of the legal defense team representing the billionaire former chief executive of Yukos Oil. “What is amazing is that America stands quiet.”

“The Russian authorities have stated that these trials will be fair and transparent,” said Edgar Vasquez, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department.

“We call upon them to meet these standards.”

The trial, set to begin July 12 in Moscow, has been seen as a stark battle of wills between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Khodorkovsky.

The Kremlin has denied any political pressure in the case, but Mr. Khodorkovsky was one of the most outspoken of the country’s super-wealthy “oligarchs” who criticized Mr. Putin before his arrest. He widely was recognized as Russia’s most powerful tycoon and a top prospective presidential candidate.

The state’s all-out assault on Mr. Khodorkovsky, who openly had used his fortune to amass political clout, is widely seen as a warning to the oligarchs to stay out of politics.

Mr. Amsterdam also criticized the 25-nation European Union for not paying enough attention to the Russian government’s violation of human rights pledges made at numerous summits.

“There is a responsibility that comes after that,” Mr. Amsterdam said. He maintained the Khodorkovsky trial “wears the emblem of the EU.”

Mr. Khodorkovsky was detained Oct. 25, 2003, and charged with fraud, tax evasion and forgery. Defense lawyers Wednesday won a postponement of the trial to July 12, saying they needed more time to study the 392 volumes of material in the case.

Although the Russian constitution has terms that are “actually more liberal than of the United States,” they are “words on the paper” only, said Sanford M. Saunders, who is also on Mr. Khodorkovsky’s defense team.

“Mr. Putin is emptying words of their everyday meaning,” Mr. Amsterdam said.

Yukos is Russia’s second-largest oil producer and the largest taxpayer in Russia. However, the tax and fraud charges could cost Yukos $3.4 billion and lead the company into bankruptcy, company officials have said. Mr. Putin said last week he opposed bankrupting Yukos.

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