Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Khodorkovsky To Appeal - II

I've reposted this from the comments section. Jeremy Putley writes:

On the subject of Mr K, here is what I sent to JRL on 9 November. David Johnson declined to publish it on his esteemed Russia List.
I’d like to comment on Ronald Hamilton’s “rebuttal” dated November 5, in which he commented on an article in the Washington Post by Natan Sharansky entitled “Bowing to Russia” (October 27).

I find Mr Hamilton’s essay highly objectionable, in that it asseverates that Khodorkovsky is guilty notwithstanding the eloquent and heartfelt statements of Mr Khodorkovsky’s Canadian lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, previously published in JRL. I was very disappointed to read such statements as “[Khodorkovsky] is guilty as sin of numerous crimes against the state and the people of Russia”, since Mr Hamilton is not a lawyer, but a retired army intelligence officer whose credentials as a legal expert can presumably be no greater than any lay person’s. As to Mr Khodorkovsky’s having broken any law, considering the representations made by Mr Amsterdam, I do not believe that the court could properly have found him guilty in the circumstances.

The exile of Mr Khodorkovsky to a prison in remotest Siberia serves to emphasise that he is, in fact, a political prisoner, following a show trial that was a travesty of justice.

Robert Amsterdam, interviewed by Radio Free Europe in September, said: “What we've seen in the Khodorkovsky case is such a complete breach of the rule of law that it is actually difficult for me to even call these courts. This is a show trial without the sophistication of the original show trials of the '20s and '30s. It is terribly sad to have even witnessed what we've seen, let alone the farce last week of a cassation appeal occurring within eight hours based on a trial record that was incomplete, based on using lawyers that stated they had not properly prepared the case, based on Mr. Khodorkovsky only stating that he had available to him the ability to review one of many episodes that he wanted to address. It was really a pathetic scene in that Moscow courtroom last week.”

It is an offence to decency, considering the travesty that passes for a judicial system in Russia today, that Mr Hamilton can assert Mr Khodorkovsky’s guilt, unsupported by argument or by facts, and I was surprised to find such a view being given an airing by JRL, presumably in a misjudged attempt at “balance.”

As to the means by which the oligarchs acquired their wealth being questionable, I am familiar with the argument that all of the oligarchs are thieves and crooks who should be in prison, regardless of whether they actually broke any enacted laws, because I hear it from certain Russians of my acquaintance, and I am quite ready to believe most Russians think the same.

It’s the case that governments do occasionally, and without proper attention to their duty of care, allow some of the wealth under their control to pass into the hands of a few individuals. An example would be David Lange, the New Zealand prime minister in the 1980s, who announced that if he won the election he would untie the kiwi dollar and let it float. It was child’s play to short the kiwi dollar and make millions, and I observed at close quarters some of the players who did it. Norman Lamont is said to have done something similar in the 1990s with the pound. But the view that those who acquire the wealth distributed with such largesse by politicians ought to go to jail does rather ignore the fact that no laws were broken in the process.

The way to get back some of the assets so unwisely given away is to use the government’s power to enact new laws imposing draconian taxes on wealth and income, possibly including a type of “windfall tax.” This would be electorally popular and would of course not involve the abuse of the justice system to which the Russian government is now addicted.

A final point on Ronald Hamilton’s argument: He says the oligarchs in exile do not return to Russia is “to avoid being tried for their crimes in Russia.” There is a well-known instance of an individual commonly so described having been awarded asylum in the UK because of a well-grounded fear that he would be the victim of political persecution in his own country, were he to be returned to Russia against his will. Presumably this case would fall outside the retired major’s facile slur?
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