Khodorkovsky case: review yes, overturn no-Kremlin

MOSCOW Mon Feb 7, 2011 4:11pm GMT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Foreign experts could be invited by the Kremlin to look into the case of jailed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky but his verdict will not be overturned, President Dmitry Medvedev's human rights council said on Monday.

Khodorkovsky, in jail since 2003, was sentenced in December to six more years behind bars after what his supporters said was a politically motivated theft and money-laundering trial. The United States has sharply criticised the decision.

"A group of professionals, possibly including foreign experts with knowledge of our legal system... is now carefully being considered," council member Tamara Morshchakova told reporters.

Medvedev, who has styled himself as a champion of democracy since he was steered into the Kremlin in 2008 by his mentor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has been criticised by rights groups for staying quiet on the Khodorkovsky case.

Morshchakova said Medvedev was "pleased" when he heard the council's proposal to involve foreigners last week.

Putin said two weeks before his December 30 sentencing that Khodorkovsky "must be in jail," drawing protests from his lawyers who said he had pressured the trial judge.

Khodorkovsky's mother has accused Putin of blocking her son's release and critics argue that new charges were trumped up to keep Khodorkovsky in prison beyond a 2012 election in which Putin has not ruled out a return to the presidency.

Morshchakova, a former justice at Russia's Constitutional Court who has publicly criticised her country's legal failings, stressed that the experts' conclusions "will have no direct legal consequences" on Khodorkovsky's verdict.

Their findings will instead be used to recommend changes to the existing laws on economic crimes, she added.

Russia's most famous prisoner has drawn global sympathy and his lawyers and rights groups say he has become an international symbol of Russia's poor rule of law.

Khodorkovsky, who last month published a book he had penned in prison, has said he would sacrifice his life for freedom in his country.

His son Pavel will attend the Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles this week, where "Symphony No. 4," composed by Estonian Arvo Part and dedicated to the former oil tycoon, is up for best classical composition, Khodorkovsky's legal team said on Monday.

(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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