MOSCOW Russia's presidential human rights council on Wednesday recommended to investigators that jailed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's second sentence, which will keep him in prison until 2016, be reviewed.
The recommendation is the strongest sign of support from the authorities since Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and ex-head of oil giant Yukos, was arrested in 2003 after he ran foul of ex-President Vladimir Putin in a case critics said was politically motivated.
"(We) suggest that the Investigative Committee should initiate a new inquiry into newly revealed circumstances (of the case) and study the grounds to review the criminal case due to fundamental violations," a statement from the Kremlin human rights council said.
The council is an advisory board preparing recommendations for the president on key human rights issues. President Dmitry Medvedev wanted the council's lawyers to study Khodorkovsky case, the council head Mikhail Fedotov said in February.
The report by the council is not legally binding and thus will have no impact on Khodorkovsky's fate, said Andrei Piontkovsky, a political analyst.
"As long as Putin remains our country's dictator, Khodorkovsky will stay in jail," he said.
Khodorkovsky's prison sentence was due to expire in 2011. But last year a Russian court handed Khodorkovsky an additional seven years in jail. Later, the term was reduced to six years on appeal.
The conviction and sentencing of Khodorkovsky deepened doubt about Mevdedev's commitment to improve the rule of law and reaffirmed perceptions of Putin's dominance.
Putin, now prime minister, who agreed to swap jobs with Medvedev in September and is almost certain to secure a return to the Kremlin next year, gets irritated when asked questions about Khodorkovsky. He says the ex-tycoon should remain in prison.
His protege Medvedev, whom Putin steered into the Kremlin in 2008 because he was constitutionally barred from serving a straight third term as president, said earlier this year that Khodorkovsky's release from jail would not be dangerous for society.
Days after Medvedev's comment a court reduced the ex-tycoon's 14-year sentence by one year.
A lawyer for Khodorkovksy said the case had to deal with politics rather than justice and thus only a political decision taken at the very top could get him out of prison.
"Of course, the case should be reviewed...but neither the case, nor the sentence have any relation to justice," Karina Moskalenko told Reuters. "(The final decision) does not depend on the presidential council either."
(Writing and reporting by Thomas Grove and Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Matthew Jones)