File photo of oil tycoon Khodorkovsky stands in the cage inside a Moscow court
Alexander Natruskin  /  Reuters
Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in a cage at a Moscow court during his trial Monday.  Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 9 years in prison on Tuesday after being found guilty of six out of seven charges in his fraud and tax evasion trial.
updated 5/31/2005 8:59:14 AM ET 2005-05-31T12:59:14

Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, was convicted Tuesday of charges including fraud and tax evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison after a trial widely denounced as politically motivated.

The declaration of guilt and sentence came on the 12th day of the laborious verdict-reading process in the most closely watched case of post-Soviet Russia. Outside the courtroom, demonstrators chanted, “Shame, shame!”

Khodorkovsky, 41, the former head of the Yukos oil company, looked straight ahead as the sentence was pronounced. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum 10 years.

The nine-year sentence includes time served. That means Khodorkovsky, who has already spent 583 days in jail, would serve about 7 1/2 more years.

His co-defendant Platon Lebedev was found guilty of the same charges and received the same sentence. Asked if he understood, he said no “sane person” could understand the verdict.

Supporters claim Khodokovsky’s trial is part of a Kremlin-driven campaign to punish him for funding opposition parties and to stifle his own political ambitions. The sentence would keep him in prison well past the 2008 presidential elections and potentially during the 2012 elections as well.

A third defendant in the case, Andrei Krainov, was given a 5 1/2 year suspended sentence.

After the sentences, the court turned to evidence and testimony regarding Apatit, a fertilizer component company in which Khodorkovsky and Lebedev allegedly acquired a large stake by rigging a privatization auction. That matter had been seen as a centerpiece of the case, but the statue of limitations on it has expired and the court was not expected to impose a sentence.

Khodorkovsky’s lawyers have 10 days to appeal and they are expected to do so.

Khodorkovsky is one of the so-called oligarchs who became enormously wealthy during the murky post-Soviet privatization of state industries in the 1990s. Such tycoons are widely resented by ordinary Russians, and demonstrators denouncing him have been a daily fixture outside the courthouse during the verdict-reading.

But there have also been gatherings of Khodorkovsky supporters, who say the trial was revenge for Khodorkovsky’s political activities and raised substantial doubt about Russia’s commitment to rule of law.

The verdict “shows that in Russia there is no independent court, in Russia there is only the all-powerful Prosecutor-General,” liberal politician Irina Khakamada said.

Such concerns have spooked many foreign investors.

“It does make people concerned, leery about an environment they don’t understand,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told Russian and U.S. business representatives in Moscow on Tuesday. “Any time the business community sees something that impacts business and doesn’t really understand why, then that’s a setback because then businesses will not want to invest.”

Khodorkovsky, whose fortune was once estimated as high as $15 billion, has been in jail since his October 2003 arrest when special forces stormed his private plane as it sat on the tarmac at a Siberian airport.

A liberal member of parliament, Vladimir Ryzhkov, suggested Monday that Khodorkovsky’s team consider filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, “which will make a decision on the basis of common sense and law,” the Interfax news agency reported.

“This verdict is a tragic example of the authorities turning a legal system against an individual for political ends,” said Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin.

Parallel to Khodorkovsky’s trial, Yukos has been battered by some $28 billion in back taxes claims. The company’s main production unit was sold off by the state to meet some of the tax arrears, in a murky auction in which the unit was bought by a shell company and then acquired by a state-controlled oil company.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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