WATCHING THE WORLD: Khodorkovsky stuck in Siberia

Aug. 21, 2006
Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of Russia’s OAO Yukos, has lost his bid to change the location of his confinement.

Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of Russia’s OAO Yukos, has lost his bid to change the location of his confinement. You may recall that a Russian court sentenced Khodorkovsky to a prison camp in Krasnokamensk, near the border with China.

Question marks continue to hover over the trial of Khodorkovsky, formerly the richest man in Russia. His supporters say Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment and the dismantling of his oil empire were a campaign by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin to punish him for his political aspirations and support for developing private oil pipeline networks. It has also been suggested that the Kremlin wanted Khodorkovsky out of the way in order to secure control of the country’s lucrative energy business. That seemed confirmed in early August when a Moscow court declared Yukos bankrupt.

Germany weighs in

Even the German government has weighed into the battle, telling Russia that Khodorkovsky is being kept in “unacceptable” conditions. That came in a letter from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her remarks followed a plea from Guido Westerwelle, the leader of Germany’s opposition Free Democrats, for Merkel to raise Khodorkovsky’s case directly with Putin.

Merkel wrote that her government regularly addresses human rights in its contacts with Russian authorities and said, “Human rights violations in prison conditions fill us with concern.”

Merkel said in the letter, dated July 28, “With reference to the fatal effect of such shortcomings on the public image of Russia in the world, the (German) government argues for lasting improvements.” She added, “The government has repeatedly drawn the Russian side’s attention to the unacceptable prison conditions of Mr. Khodorkovsky. In this case, too, we seek from Russia fulfillment of international standards.”

Home threatened

So far, we have not heard of any answer from Putin, nor do we expect to. Indeed, the decision to keep Khodorkovsky in his Siberian prison is probably the closest thing to an answer anyone could expect from a government that has long since begun to emulate the arrogance of the Tsars.

And the story just gets worse by the day. Indeed, last week Khodorkovsky’s wife Inna Khodorkovskaya said Russian authorities were planning to seize the family home of the jailed oil baron.

She said Moscow’s Basmanny court had informed her that the couple’s property in an elite gated community in Zhukovka, on the edge of the capital, was “under arrest.”

“An arrest has been applied to the territory where we live,” she said. “That’s why I say that we live in Zhukovka ‘for now.’ When [the seizure] will be realized, I don’t know, but I’m already thinking about where to rent a home.” A spokesman for the general prosecutor’s office confirmed that the property had been impounded but said the family could not be evicted without a court order.

We don’t expect such an order would be hard to obtain.