Exercises in Banality: The Moral Preening By Khodorkovsky Apologists

My views on Khodorkovsky – and by extension his being found guilty of $25bn embezzlement – aren’t exactly a secret (1, 2, 3) so I’ll keep this brief.

1. As usual, the only people who care about this are Western politicians eager to score cheap shots against Russia’s “assault” on transparency and rule of law (note that the same people have no problem with repressing Wikileaks and killing Assange – everyone should be subject to equal scrutiny, but some more equally than others!); MBK’s lawyers and PR-men whose job this is; and the legions of naifs, fools and ideologues manipulated by them. BTW, my favorite photo is above, showing elderly ladies parading with that chic glossy poster of their hero, with Medvedev and Putin darkly conspiring behind his back. I’m sure they funded it all out of their pensions.

2. The standard argument of MBK’s PR-men goes something like this: how could Khodorkovsky be guilty of embezzling $25bn, from his own company? And especially considering that he’s already been found guilty of tax evasion? But that’s just begging the question; insinuations, not facts. While MBK *might* not be directly guilty of this, I’m sure the prosecutors have found some legal loophole or another sufficient to convict him. I can imagine a scenario where the proceeds from the tax evasion he was originally convicted for – if retained by MBK’s various LLC’s and holding companies, which they presumably were – could also legally constitute embezzlement.

The issue then becomes a question of whether Russia’s laws against double jeopardy apply to this case; it’s theoretically possible to both evade taxes, and consequently to deprive your shareholders of dividends, i.e. embezzlement. I don’t know the legalistic details but neither do more than 99% of the pundits; what I do want to stress is that even from the legalistic viewpoint, stressed by MBK’s defenders, things are far from a straightforward case of “Putin’s vendetta” against the “independent businessman”.

3. I’m not going to reiterate the other arguments as to why Medvedev should pardon MBK (e.g. that in itself it a subversion of the legal process; that the US imprisons people without trial at Guantanamo doesn’t give me free reign to abduct passersby into my basement Juggler-style; that he never cared about rule of law until it boomeranged back against him). The bottom line is he failed at his power grab. Too bad for him, he should have used his ill-gotten gains on buying foreign football clubs and luxury yachts with AA systems. Smallest violin in the world playing for his lost opportunities!

4. The liberal intelligentsia and libertarian oligarch-apologists love yapping on about how Khodorkovsky’s political “persecution” will lead to investors withdrawing their money from that non-BRICworthy economic hellhole, that is Russia. I checked specifically for this and observed absolutely zero discernible effect on the RTS stockmarket around when MBK was found guilty on December 27th. (Of course, pardoning criminals just to appease the hurt feelings of international capital is perhaps the most reprehensible pro-MBK argument of them all).


  1. What would you say to the assertion that even if Khodorkovsky is guilty (of fraud, tax evasion, embezzlement, and the like), he has already served prison time for his crimes and should therefore be set free?

    • He served time for tax evasion. The second trial is for the embezzlement. The only valid legalistic objection to it that I’ve seen is double jeopardy, but whether it can apply to MBK’s advantage is a complex and debatable question IMO.

      • Giuseppe pointed out on my blog that the original sentence had nothing to do with evasion of taxes on oil – it was something to do with a fertilizer company YUKOS had acquired. I hadn’t heard that, and he’s still digging, but Eugene Ivanov’s sending me the text of the legal opinion following his first sentencing, and I’ll post it as soon as I get it.

    • The same standards should be applied to all. In this case Khodorkovsky would be doing 25 years for the fraud he already committed if he was in the USA. A 9 year sentence is a slap on the wrist. As noted already, doing time for one conviction does not mean you get a “get out of jail free card” for all other convictions.

      The west’s, primarily anglophone, bleating about Khodorkovsky looks exactly like the bleatings of the climate change denialists. It’s all about conspiracies and never about the facts. The way that the oligarchs got rich in Russia in the 1990s was not some succeed by the sweat of one’s brow ideal. It was bloody gangsterism. They never got Al Capone on any of the murders he was responsible for.

    • Alex Seredin says:

      Well my dear. Here in JewSA we had a very similar crook as Khodorkovky, his name is Bernie Maddoff. he stole from the people just like your crook did almost same amount of cold cash as your crook did. Bernie is in for good, 150 years, he ain’t coming out before than, believe me, if he does he will be run over by the mad mob waiting for him.Khodorkovsky got off easy, believe me. Actually he also should get 150 at least!

  2. There’s something to Nat’s suggestion that at least a portion of MBK’s time served is owed to him, because a fairly good chunk of it was pretrial detention, which is illegal in all but the narrowest set of circumstances. The authorities might get away with suggesting he was a flight risk, and he certainly might have been, but to all appearances he came along quietly. I personally think it’s because he believed his army of lawyers would blow the doors off the prosecution, but my opinion doesn’t matter to the outcome.

    There’s a decent explanation at La Russophobe – of all places – by a commenter called “free”, which goes like this;

    “Here are the facts;

    Yukos did establish several companies in reduced tax rate zones in Russia. These companies gained a lower tax rate illegally as they had no activity in the region. In fact the law required that these companies invested any tax relief in the area.

    Subsidiaries of Yukos sold oil at below market value to these new companies in low tax areas. These companies then sold that oil on at market value at a reduced tax rate. Yukos’s claimed that these companies were not affiliates and they received no income from them. In fact money from these companies seams to be missing hence hence the embezzlement charges against certain individuals.

    Even a monkey can see how this is illegal.

    The tax bill in question is in regards to Yukos, its subsidiaries and the companies it set up in low tax zones. Therefore it has to be taken in context with the revenues of all these companies not just Yukos as your suggesting.
    Yukos broke not only the law but the spirit of the tax free zones which where designed to encourage investment in regions of Russia not for tax evasion.

    Then there is the only Yukos was prosecuted again this is myth and untrue. LUKOIL paid its tax bill in 2001 in a very similar scheme. The 8 billion dollars Yuko’s offered as a settlement could not be accepted as it was offered at least partly as Sibneft shares who’s assets where in dispute at the time.”

    The grammar and spelling are a little shaky, but he otherwise – through a lengthy back-and-forth – sounds like he (or she) knows what he’s talking about. Anyway, this could account for the “stolen oil” that some insist was never stolen; it was sold at an illegal tax rate.

    Anyway, I’m happy to agree he’s probably being set up. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s a criminal, and will never be charged with a good deal of the things he got away with because there’s no proof, and that’s because he was extremely careful. I’d think the west would be delighted with the verdict, since they usually suggest Putin kills everyone who opposes him. Here’s a bet – the sentence will be six more years. Added to the time already served, that’ll work out to fifteen years, which is the maximum they could have given him for tax-related criminal activity.

  3. “…my favorite photo is above, showing elderly ladies parading with that chic glossy poster of their hero, with Medvedev and Putin darkly conspiring behind his back. I’m sure they funded it all out of their pensions.”
    Implication is that pensioners were paid (probably by MBK lawyers?) to wave posters, so that Western media could show photos of demonstrations, thus create illusion of mass opposition movement. Although western media usually prefer images of younger, more physically attractive demonstrators, like Green movement in Iran, texting and twittering as they demonstrate, to show how the hip youth of the world supports Western Values. Oh well, I guess this was the best they could come up with on short notice.

    • That’s right. These pensioners is all that could be bought to protest and clearly they did not make those posters on their inkjet printers. LOL. I wonder what the western elites hope to accomplish with these lame smear attempts at Russia. Is it really only for western consumption, since it is clear that they are not rallying Russians to the “poor gangster oligarch persecuted by the duly elected, popular government” cause.

  4. This is the way ruling class systems work. Force all citizens to walk through a minefield of eternal legal liability and selectively toast those that step on the land mines. Securities, tax, environmental, campaign finance laws are (intentionally) legally amorphous minefields for the politically aspirant and soon everybody else. The McCain – Feingold Act is one example. Not only is John McCain a card-carrying member of the Keating Five, he also did his part to make the campaign finance minefield lethal enough to enable the felony prosecution of trial lawyer Geoff Fieger:


    Fieger was probably going to Putin-ize the Michigan legal system and the USDOJ under Bush apparently wanted him taken care of. Problem is, everybody in Michigan knows exactly what Fieger is just like the people in Russia know Khordorkovsky. Political prosecutions are legal grey area popularity contests.

    The uber-liberal legal system in Angela Merkel’s Germany lets slav-killers roam free:
    Apparently this should apply to Russia as well right? I think not:


    I’d like to ask Angela Merkel…are all Germans fidgety paranoid backstabbers or does this just happen at tennis tournaments?

    In a ruling class system all discriminations are corporate and all prosecutions are political. Bill and Hillary Clinton should know this all too well since they are the worlds most visible advocates for ruling class concepts.

  5. The positive thing is that Putin is more open to protecting democracy and free trials in Russia then he was when the war in Chechnya broke out and the results were far more concerning than Khodorkovsky’s $25bn embezzlement.