Khodorkovsky verdict was ordered from above, claims judge's assistant

An assistant to a judge who convicted the Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said yesterday that the judge did not write the verdict, and had read it against his will.

The claim provides a rare insight into Russia's judicial system, where judges are susceptible to political pressure. The judge, Viktor Danilkin, found Khodorkovsky guilty in December of stealing oil from his own oil company and extended his prison term to 2017.

The judge's assistant, Natalya Vasilyeva, said the verdict was imposed upon her boss when it became clear his own ruling would not please senior officials. "Danilkin began to write the verdict. I suspect that what was in that verdict did not suit his higher-ups, and therefore he received another verdict, which he had to read," Ms Vasilyeva told the Dozhd TV channel.

Judge Danilkin said "the assertion by Natalya Vasilyeva was nothing more than slander".