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Russian court cuts sentence of ex-Yukos tycoon's partner.

HIGH-PROFILE PROCEEDINGS A Russian court cut the 13-year prison term of the business partner of jailed ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky by more than three years on Wednesday, handing him a rare legal victory in a case he and his lawyers say was politically motivated.

The ruling by a court in northern Russia in response to an appeal means that Platon Lebedev, 55, will leave prison next March if it is not successfully challenged by the state prosecution, according to defence lawyers.

"Platon - if this decision is not appealed by the prosecution - must be freed on March 2, 2013," a lawyer for Lebedev, Vladimir Krasny, told Kommersant FM radio.

Wednesday's ruling has no direct effect on Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos oil company CEO who is also serving 13 years and is due for release late in 2016, but did not file the same appeal.

Like Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia's richest man but fell out with the Kremlin during Vladimir Putin's first presidential term, Lebedev dismisses the convictions and sentences as absurd and politically motivated.

Both men were arrested in 2003 in what supporters say was a Kremlin-driven campaign to punish Khodorkovsky for challenges to Putin and to increase state control over the lucrative oil industry.

In trials that have damaged Russia's image in the West during Putin's 12 years in power, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 and found guilty of theft and money laundering at a second trial in 2010.

The fate of Khodorkovsky, whom Putin has sharply criticised in public comments several times, is being closely watched for signs of any softening of his position during a new six-year presidential term he started on May 7.

Putin's reputation has suffered further as a result of the trial of three women from an activist punk band, Pussy Riot, who barged into Russia's main cathedral and performed a "punk prayer" to the Virgin Mary to "Throw Putin out!" Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence the women, jailed since February, to three years in prison, a punishment rights groups say would be grossly disproportionate to what they did. The judge is to issue a verdict on Aug. 17.

The chairman of Russia's Supreme Court last month ordered a lower court to review a separate appeal against Khodorkovsky's conviction.

But Khodorkovsky's lead lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, said he saw "nothing momentous" about the ruling in Lebedev's case and did not treat it as a signal of whether or not Khodorkovsky's appeal would succeed. "I see no real grounds to speak of any revival of legitimacy in this case, or a shift toward fairness," he said.

In Lebedev's appeal, his lawyers said that because of legislative changes that have softened punishments for some financial crimes, including money laundering, Lebedev had already served his time and should be released.

Prosecutors said his sentence should be shortened by less than two years, but the court ordered it reduced to nine years and eight months, according to a statement on a website set up by lawyers and supporters.

While Khodorkovsky has not filed the same appeal, the broader appeal that the Supreme Court chairman ordered the Moscow City Court to review includes that argument, among others, Klyuvgant said.

Maria Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said the ruling on Lebedev's complaint may have little meaning for Khodorkovsky's appeal.

"To say that if Lebedev is released early, then Khodorkovsky will be released early, assumes we are superimposing judicial logic, legal logic," she said. "The decision for all these cases, however, is not governed by judicial or legal logic."

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Publication:Financial Mirror (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Aug 8, 2012
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