Russian Supreme Court Orders Release Of Platon Lebedev

 January 23, 2014
The Russian Supreme Court has ordered the release of Platon Lebedev, the former business partner of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The court ruled on January 23 that Lebedev's prison term must be shortened to a length equal to what he has already served. Lebedev has been in jail since 2003.

Former Yukos head Khodorkovsky was unexpectedly pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, eight months ahead of his scheduled release, after more than a decade behind bars.

Lebedev, 57, has been serving his sentence in the Far Northern Arkhangelsk region. He had been due to be released in May.

His defense had repeatedly complained that Lebedev had been denied adequate medical care for his health problems.

Lebedev is now expected to be released on January 23 or 24.

Lebedev's lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, praised the court's decision but added that his client was "unlawfully deprived of more than 10 years" of his life.

"This is some sort of a step in the direction of humane attitude, given the fact that Platon [Lebedev] is being released [from prison] almost in the wake of Mikhail [Khodorkovsky]," Klyuvgant said. "Nevertheless, today's events have absolutely nothing to do with justice because their sentences remain in place, albeit with some cosmetic changes."

Human rights group Amnesty International criticized the authorities' decision as another "politically expedient" move by Russia as the world's attention turns to February’s Olympics in Sochi.

In a written statement, Amnesty International said the release does not remedy the injustice done to Lebedev by his conviction. The statement linked Lebedev’s case to Khodorkovsky and members of the Pussy Riot punk collective, all of them released recently in advance of the Sochi Olympics.

Amnesty International described Khodorkovsky, Lebedev, and Pussy Riot members as "prisoners of conscience," jailed for their political views.

Lebedev was Khodorkovsky's co-defendant in two high-profile and highly controversial trials that saw both convicted on charges of fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.

The European Court of Human Rights called the trials were unfair but did not call them politically motivated.

The Russian Supreme Court did not change a court order under which Lebedev and Khodorkovsky must pay a combined 17 billion rubles ($521 million) in tax arrears, an obstacle to Khodorkovsky's return to Russia after leaving for Germany in December.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, ITAR-TASS, Reuters, and Rossija 24