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Last updated: February 14, 2011 7:57 pm
The Moscow judge who sentenced former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to six more years in jail in December did not write the verdict himself but had it delivered to him by judges from a higher court, an aide to the judge has alleged.
The judge, Viktor Danilkin, immediately denied the claims and said he would sue the aide for slander.
Mr Khodorkovsky, one Russia’s richest man, was arrested in 2003 in what has been widely seen as a politically motivated case.
After being imprisoned for eight years for fraud and tax evasion in 2005, the former Yukos oil company chief was convicted last year on new charges of embezzling billions of dollars’ worth of oil from his company.
Critics have suggested the new charges were designed to ensure Mr Khodorkovsky remained in prison until well after Russia’s next presidential elections in 2012. But Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, has insisted Mr Khodorkovsky was a “thief”.
Natalia Vasilieva, the court assistant and press secretary at Moscow’s Khamovnichesky district court, said in an interview broadcast on an independent TV channel and published on a Russian website that the judge in the latest case had been “under constant control” during the trial.
She said judge Danilkin had written his own verdict, but “there was something in it that the higher court” – the Moscow City Court – “did not like”.
“Because of this, he received another verdict, which he had to read out,” she said. “I know for sure that the verdict was brought from the Moscow City Court.”
Mr Danilkin said he would take legal action against the court assistant.
“I’m convinced that Natalia Vasilieva’s statement is nothing other than slander and it will be possible to refute it in the way prescribed by law,” he told Itar-Tass news agency.
A spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court also denied her claims and suggested her interview was a “provocation” ahead of a forthcoming appeal hearing.
Ms Vasilieva, who could not be contacted, provided no immediate evidence for her claims.
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