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Khodorkovsky whistle-blower quits

An aide to the judge who sentenced Mikhail Khodorkovsky to six more years in prison stepped down yesterday, weeks after saying the verdict was dictated by more senior members of the judiciary.

Natalia Vasilyeva, aide to chairman of Moscow's Khamovniki court Viktor Danilkin, said last month that the verdict he read out was not written by him, reinforcing the suspicions of Kremlin critics that pressure had been put on the judge.

"Natalia Vasilyeva, who has returned from her sick leave today, filed a letter of resignation which has been approved," said Milentina Kapustkina, the court's spokeswoman.

Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who has been in jail since 2003, was sentenced in December last year to stay behind bars until 2017, after what his supporters said was a politically motivated trial.

Ms Vasilyeva's lawyer Irina Khrunova said her client decided to quit, because she of "the negative attitude of her colleagues towards her", adding that Ms Vasilyeva was not considering taking up any jobs at this point.

Ms Vasilyeva, who also acted as a spokeswoman for the Khamovniki district court during the trial, told gazeta.ru news site last month that the verdict Mr Danilkin read out in late December was written not by him, but by judges from the Moscow City Court, a federal appeals court.

She did not reveal the names of any judges or other sources.