Russia Moves Against Khodorkovsky's Legal Team

A foreign lawyer is expelled and the state takes action to disbar eight who represented the oil magnate, whose appeal was rejected.

By Kim Murphy

Los Angeles Times

September 24, 2005

MOSCOW — A Canadian lawyer for jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was expelled from Russia on Friday after a post-midnight visit to his hotel room by plainclothes police.

The confrontation, reminiscent of law enforcement tactics during the Soviet era, came hours after the denial of Khodorkovsky's appeal of his conviction on fraud and tax evasion charges. The case ended his control of Yukos Oil Co. and transferred the bulk of the company's assets back to state control.

Prosecutors also said Friday that they had moved to disbar at least eight of Khodorkovsky's Russian lawyers for what they called foot-dragging in representing the 42-year-old businessman in his appeal.

In an escalation of the political tug of war that has seen the oil magnate become a prominent dissident while behind bars, law enforcement officers descended on the luxury hotel room of Robert Amsterdam shortly after 1 a.m. and ordered him to leave the country within 24 hours.

At first, the lawyer said at a news conference shortly before he departed, the six officers identified themselves as Moscow police and requested that he accompany them to the police station for questioning.

"I had seen that movie before," Amsterdam said. "I told them I wasn't going for questioning unless they arrested me. Then they said they'd take my passport, which they did, that they would stamp it, and they would give me 24 hours to leave the country."

The Canadian lawyer is taking a lead role in carrying the Khodorkovsky appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, and the court of public opinion in the West. He has made numerous public statements accusing the Kremlin of stealing Yukos from its rightful owners and conducting a trial in violation of international standards of justice.

"The situation we saw yesterday was a shame on this country," the lawyer said, referring to the appeal hearing that was moved up several weeks in what defense lawyers said was a successful move to block the businessman's attempt to run for parliament from his jail cell.

Defense lawyers said they had been given only a week to read 700 pages of documents before the appeal hearing, which the court suddenly scheduled after the tycoon signaled his intent to run for office. His right to stand as a candidate ended with Thursday's rejection of the appeals of Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev.

The Russian attorneys threatened with disbarment had refused to represent Khodorkovsky in his appeal when Yuri Schmidt and Genrikh Padva, whom Khodorkovsky had designated as his appeals lawyers, said they could not appear Thursday at the moved-up court date. Schmidt was out of the country; Padva checked into a hospital.

"The rush to justice, the farce we witnessed, the lack of a paper record upon which the appeal could be heard — it was so obvious, it was so obscene," Amsterdam said.

"There is no question today that Russia is in gross violation of that [international human rights] treaty, and that is a matter that needs to be taken on by those countries that deal with that treaty," he added.

Khodorkovsky, in a statement issued from his jail cell Friday, said the handling of his case showed that "official power is afraid of me."

"They understood that I would win in the parliament elections. That voters would support me in spite of the floods of state propaganda mud which have been poured at me," he said in the statement, directed at a congress this weekend of the pro-democracy Union of Right Forces party.

"Though the criminal bureaucratic regime gave me eight years in a prison camp, I am sure that in two or three years we will meet together … in the walls of the new democratic parliament of Russia," Khodorkovsky said.

The businessman's supporters said the handling of his advisory counsel's visa was intended as a message. By law, the matter should have been dealt with during business hours, Schmidt said Friday.

"They simply wanted to show who is the master of the house," he added.

Prosecutors said Khodorkovsky was accused of serious crimes and had received a fair trial.

"I sleep easily, because my conscience is clear…. Currently, no one has any doubt that these individuals committed these crimes; their blame is indisputable," trial prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin said Friday at a news conference. "Certainly, both the defense lawyers and the defendants themselves have a right to appeal to the court with supervisory authority," he added.

Khodorkovsky is scheduled to be transferred to a prison camp outside Moscow within 10 days.

Schmidt said lawyers will file a routine appeal with the Supreme Court but are pinning their hopes on action by the European court in Strasbourg, France.

"Taking into consideration my 45 years of legal practice, including practice during the time of Brezhnev, I never saw such a parody of a true judicial process," Schmidt said, referring to former Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev. "The authorities completely forgot about any semblance of propriety."