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Court aide says Khodorkovsky verdict 'forced on judge'

RIA Novosti

14:13 14/02/2011 MOSCOW, February 14 (RIA Novosti) - An aide to the Moscow judge who imposed a jail sentence on former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky in December has claimed the verdict was determined by "higher" powers.

Aide Natalya Vasilyeva said the original verdict by Khamovniki Court Judge Viktor Danilkin was "replaced" and forced upon him against his will.

"Higher echelons didn't like the verdict, so it was replaced by another one," she said in an interview with the Dozhd cable TV channel. She said the new verdict and sentence was the work of Moscow City Court officials.

Vasilyeva said she had no doubt she would be dismissed over her statement. She said however that she had no choice but to go public after becoming "disappointed" with the reality of Russia's often-criticized judicial system.

However, Danilkin dismissed the report as slander.

"Vasilyeva's claim is nothing but slander and it can be refuted in the manner set forth by law," he said.

Moscow City Court also denied the allegations.

"Vasilyeva's assertion is a provocation," Moscow City Court press secretary Anna Usacheva said.

"No other judges, not even Moscow City Court judges, know the details of the case and it is simply impossible to write a verdict without examining a case."

On New Year's Eve, Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were sentenced to another six years in jail after being found guilty on new charges of stealing millions of tons of oil from their now defunct company Yukos. The two have already served eight years on fraud charges.

The charges are widely viewed as political revenge by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for Khodorkovsky's support of the country's tiny opposition movement. The two men are expected to remain in jail until 2017.

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