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Russian 'higher ups' orchestrated trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, says court assistant

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"If anyone else [besides Judge Danilkin] participated in writing the verdict, then the verdict itself is illegal," says Khodorkovsky's defense attorney, Yury Schmidt, adding that the allegations will give new impetus to the appeal and could result in criminal charges against Danilkin.

Even Kremlin officials have worried out loud about the negative impact on Russia's international investment prospects created by the widespread perception that in Khodorkovsky's case Russian law was subordinated to Kremlin dictate. Vasilyeva's testimony is bound to deepen concerns about the reliability of Russian justice.

Trial orchestrated by 'higher ups'

When Vladimir Putin came to power more than a decade ago, Khodorkovsky was one of very few Russian "oligarchs" to refuse to drop all political support for opposition parties.

An initial 2005 trial sentenced him to nine years in a Siberian penal colony on charges of graft, tax evasion, and fraud as part of a Kremlin campaign against the super-rich oligarchs. A lengthy 2007 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in December summarized the evidence that Khodorkovsky was being hounded by the Kremlin for political reasons and concluded that he would never be freed from prison as long as Mr. Putin remained in power.

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