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World News

Khodorkovsky case tests Kremlin credibility: German MPs

BERLIN (Reuters) - A parliamentary motion by Berlin’s ruling parties says the trial of Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a test case for Moscow’s justice system and President Dmitry Medvedev’s vow to clean up the courts.

Fallen Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrives at a court for his new trial on money laundering and embezzlement charges in Moscow April 27, 2009. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

Agreed by leading lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD) on Tuesday, the motion urges the government to push for EU supervision of the trial and adopt a more vocal stance when the rule of law is violated in Russia.

Although the document has no legal weight, it reflects growing German concern about political intervention in the Russian legal system and carries symbolic importance because it is backed by Germany’s biggest parties.

“This trial is a test case of the Russian justice system’s credibility, as demanded by President Medvedev, and the respect of Council of Europe standards,” the paper reads.

“There is concern that the trial will be used for political goals. If this were the case, the authorities would damage not only Russia’s reputation, its economy and its diplomatic ties, but above all the legal and human rights principles that Russia itself has vowed to adhere to.”

Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Levedev were sentenced to eight years in prison for fraud and tax evasion in 2005 under then-President Vladimir Putin, though their defense lawyers say they are political prisoners.

The two are currently on trial on new charges that could keep them in jail for another 22 years.

When Medvedev replaced Putin last year he struck a different tone to his predecessor, vowing not to tolerate human rights violations, to battle corruption and end what he called legal nihilism in the court system.

Amnesty International said last month that Medvedev had failed to deliver on these promises and detailed a host of abuses on the president’s watch, including the murders of reporters and the case of Khodorkovsky.

The parliamentary motion, agreed by Merkel ally and CDU foreign policy expert Eckhart von Klaeden and his SPD counterpart Gert Weisskirchen, describes progress under Medvedev as inconsistent.

Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Jon Hemming

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