A few weeks after I wrote my last post concerning Khodorkovsky, another part of his case came before the European Court of Human Rights. This concerned the seizure by the Russian authorities of Yukos, Khodorkovsky’s oil company, following his arrest on charges of company fraud and tax evasion.
On this occasion the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights was even stronger. Whilst a majority of the Court’s Judges found that there had been serious procedural errors in the way the Russian authorities went about the case, the Judges unanimously rejected the central charge made by Khodorkovsky and his supporters that the seizure of Yukos was politically motivated. On the contrary on this occasion the Judges made clear their belief that Yukos and Khodorkovsky had indeed been engaged in the massive tax fraud the Russian authorities had alleged and said that given the size of the fraud the Russian authorities’ seizure of Yukos was proportionate and appropriate. This incidentally almost certainly puts paid to any hope of the Yukos shareholders winning anything like the $98 billion compensation they are claiming in separate proceedings they have brought against the Russian government in connection with its seizure of Yukos.
In other words everything the Russian authorities have said over the last ten years about Khodorkovsky and Yukos has turned out to be true and everything that has been said about the case by western governments, human rights agencies, the media and Khodorkovsky himself has turned out to be false. Notwithstanding this not a single government, agency, newspaper or person who previously expressed support for Khodorkovsky has admitted error or expressed any sort of apology for what was previously said or for any of the criticism that was previously made. As before the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights has been barely reported. The Economist on this occasion did report the Judgment though in a very grudging way making it clear that it thought the Judgment wrong. Needless to say the Economist would have expressed no such doubts had the Judgment gone the other way and would have ridiculed anyone who tried to take issue with what it would have said was the considered Judgment of the Court.
What this silence means is that no lessons will be learnt from this affair. Instead though the facts in the single most important case to have happened in Russia in recent years say the opposite western commentators will continue to say that Russia suffers from a culture of “legal nihilism” and that Russian courts are under political control. Indeed the Guardian says this very thing in an editorial it has published today. In the meantime corrupt businessmen in Russia will continue as they have always done in the knowledge that if the Russian authorities move against them they will find a ready audience in the west for the claim that they are the victims of political oppression. Such efforts as the Russian authorities make to deal with the problem of corruption in their country are thereby made more complicated even as the west criticises them for their supposed failure to deal with corruption. The rule of law, which the west claims to support, is as a result undermined and the bad image of Russia created by the Khodorkovsky case, as it turns out on a false basis, will remain in place.