- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow appeals court has upheld the second conviction of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but it also reduced his prison sentence by one year.

Tuesday’s decision means that the 47-year-old Khodorkovsky will remain in prison until 2016, a total of 13 years. He was convicted in December of stealing oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds, a ruling that drew strong international condemnation.

Khodorkovsky was seen as a political threat to Vladimir Putin, who was president in 2003 when Khodorkovsky was arrested and remains Russia’s most powerful leader now that he is prime minister.

During the one-day appeal hearing at Moscow City Court, Khodorkovsky poured scorn on the judges who had written the verdict, a lengthy summary of the trial that spelled out his guilt.

“From which dusty basement did they dig out the venomous Stalinist spider who wrote that gibberish?” Khodorkovsky asked, visibly agitated as he paced around the glass-and-steel defendant’s cage.

“What long-term investments are we talking about with a justice system like that? No modernization is going to happen without cleaning out these basements.”

It was a bold attack against the court that decided his fate: The assistant of the judge who handed down the conviction in the lower court later claimed that the verdict was actually written by judges at the Moscow City Court.

It also was a barb aimed at President Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Mr. Putin in 2008 on promises to strengthen the rule of law as part of an effort to modernize Russia’s economy and attract needed foreign investment. His efforts so far have had little effect.

“The president is going to have to make a choice,” Khodorkovsky said. “What does he, Russia, need more: a state ruled by law or the opportunity for de facto extrajudicial reprisals?”

The defense has said the charges against Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev 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 the oil.

The charges also contradicted the first trial, in which Khodorkovsky was convicted of evading taxes on Yukos profits.

“The authors of the sentence made themselves and the whole country look stupid by saying that victims of theft actually profit from it themselves, that it is a crime to strive for higher profits, that the price for oil on the international market should equal domestic prices,” Khodorkovsky said.

His eight-year sentence for his first conviction had been set to end in October.

AP writers David Nowak and Lynn Berry contributed to this report.

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