A show trial reminiscent of the bad old days

Share

The detention, trial and judgment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky were all so protracted that the verdict and sentence, when finally pronounced, scarcely ruffled either the markets or foreign opinion. So used had we grown to the background rumbling of the Yukos affair that it seemed almost a permanent fact of Russian life. Perhaps the Kremlin was counting on just such an effect.

The detention, trial and judgment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky were all so protracted that the verdict and sentence, when finally pronounced, scarcely ruffled either the markets or foreign opinion. So used had we grown to the background rumbling of the Yukos affair that it seemed almost a permanent fact of Russian life. Perhaps the Kremlin was counting on just such an effect.

But the scandal of Mr Khodorkovsky and his now defunct oil company, Yukos, is no less of a scandal because of its longevity. What passes for Russian justice managed, within the space of 18 months, to bankrupt Russia's biggest oil company and destroy the country's richest man - one of very few who had tried to turn ill-gotten gains into a legitimate operation up to international standards.

There was little doubt that Mr Khodorkovsky would be found guilty as charged. That he was convicted of only six (of seven) counts and sentenced to one year less than the maximum 10 years was probably as good as it was going to get. Nor was there any need for the charges to be trumped up. No one who amassed riches in the anarchic days of Russia's post-Soviet "wild east" is likely to have done it without breaking the law.

The more disturbing question is why Mr Khodorkovsky was singled out from all the oligarchs - and not even the year-long trial has brought an answer. The speculation remains the same as it was when he was arrested, at gunpoint, in Siberia. Now, as then, his real crimes were thought to be his political, even presidential, ambitions. A more subtle version had it that he had "bought off" key Russian MPs, ensuring that legislation not to his liking would be blocked. And, fatally, President Putin was said to dislike him.

None of these, however, are justifiable reasons for prosecution in any civilised country. Either Mr Putin, for all his talk of making Russia a law-governed state, was more of a Soviet-style apparatchik than had been believed, or he was not fully in charge. Neither prospect was consoling. Foreign investors were shocked; a new generation of Russian entrepreneurs was in near panic. Russians, and their money, again fled abroad.

While Mr Khodorkovsky's next recourse is to appeal, the immediate damage is to Russia. It is not an encouraging sign that successive governments have not only failed to harness the enterprise and wealth of its Khodorkovskys for the country's benefit, but have driven so many others into exile. This harms Russia's image and deters foreign investment; it also deprives it of the home-grown wealth and talent it needs. Until the law is seen to be independent, however, and is applied fairly to all, there will be no real change for the better.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Order Processor

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd champion the young and hold a cabinet meeting on top of Ben Nevis

Bear Grylls
 

i Editor's Letter: The five reasons why I vote

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot