MOSCOW (Reuters) - The business partner of former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky won a three-year shortening of his prison sentence on Thursday, but a lawyer for the fallen oil boss said his bid for a similar cut was still lodged in a separate court.
Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev were arrested in 2003 and are serving 13-year jail terms for fraud, tax evasion, theft and money laundering, in a case that has damaged Russia’s image abroad.
They say their arrests were part of a Kremlin campaign to tighten the state’s grip on the lucrative oil sector and punish Khodorkovsky, 49, for challenging the political domination of President Vladimir Putin.
“Lebedev’s sentence was lowered to 10 years in prison,” said Natalya Sidorak, a judge at a district court in the town of Velsk, where the 55-year-old is serving his term.
The same court had cut Lebedev’s sentence by three years and four months in August, citing legal changes softening punishment for financial crimes. But another court struck down the ruling and asked the Velsk court to reconsider.
Khodorkovsky’s defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told Reuters his client was seeking a similar result to Lebedev.
“We are also trying to do that, though in a slightly different legal procedure. The Supreme Court said the matter should be considered and passed it on to the Moscow city court, which until now has not started dealing with it,” he said.
Thursday’s ruling cuts Lebedev’s sentence by exactly three years to 10, while prosecutors were seeking a term of 11 years and three months, Lebedev’s defense lawyer said. It paves the way for his release in July 2013.
Lebedev and Khodorkovsky, former head of oil group Yukos and once Russia’s richest man, were convicted in 2005 and had their sentences extended at a second trial in 2010.
Putin, who has sharply criticized Khodorkovsky in public over the years, is now serving his third term as Russia’s president after winning elections in March that his critics say were marred by fraud.
Opponents of the former KGB officer accuse him of orchestrating a crackdown on dissent since his May inauguration to stifle dissent and curb a wave of protests that swept through Moscow and other big cities in the winter.
The protest movement has since then struggled to make any significant inroads into Putin’s grip on power.
Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Trevelyan