MOSCOW — The European Court of Human Rights yesterday rejected the contention that the 2003 arrest of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was politically motivated, dealing a setback to efforts of Khodorkovsky’s supporters to portray him as a prisoner of conscience.
The Kremlin sees the ruling as vindication following years of harsh international criticism over treatment of a powerful man once seen as a political threat to Vladimir Putin. Khodorkovsky, who was Russia’s richest person at the time of his arrest, had funded opposition parties and was seen as attempting to rival the dominance of then-President Putin. Supporters have contended his prosecution on charges of tax evasion and fraud was punishment for challenging the Kremlin.
The Strasbourg-based court said Khodorkovsky’s lawyers did not present “incontestable proof’’ of political motivation in the case. However, it said the charges caused “reasonable suspicion,’’ possibly leaving the door open for another appeal.
The court also ruled that Khodorkovsky’s rights were violated during his arrest in 2003 and detention, when he was held in cramped and unsanitary conditions, among other things. Russia will have to pay some $35,000 in damages that Khodorkovsky’s lawyers say will be sent to charity.
For eight years the Kremlin has been insisting that the oil magnate is being tried for economic crimes and that no politics are involved in the case. Yesterday, there was no formal reaction to the decision, but a highly placed official told the Associated Press the Kremlin was satisfied with the ruling.
Khodorkovsky is due for release in 2016, but President Dmitry Medvedev said this month that Khodorkovsky “poses absolutely no danger to society’’ if released early.