Academic and businessman Sergei Guriev explains in The New York Times his decision to flee Vladimir Putin’s Russia to preserve his freedom. He made the choice after his independent review of the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case, in which Guriev suggested Khodorkovsky should not have been convicted, landed him on the Kremlin’s radar, exposing himto government scrutiny and possible jail time.
Since February, I have been repeatedly contacted and interrogated by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation as a “witness” in “Case 18/41-03.” Surreal as this may sound (like many other things below), this is the original case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned head of the Yukos oil company, launched in 2003.
Since then, the prosecutors apparently have used this case to produce further “subcases” — and jail terms — for Khodorkovsky, his business partner Platon Lebedev, and some of their colleagues. These cases are generally perceived in Russia as politically charged. This was especially true for the so-called “second case” against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev in 2010.
The widespread outrage over the additional sentences meted out to them in 2010 gave rise to then-President Dmitri Medvedev’s request for his Human Rights Council to carry out an evaluation of the case. The council gathered a panel of nine economics and law professors (including me) and asked us to read through the case and give our opinions. And so we did. While we worked independently, every expert declared that the case did not contain convincing proof of the guilt of Khodorkovsky or Lebedev.
These opinions had no legal weight, being only public statements of independent academics expressed after the trial was concluded, and therefore were largely disregarded. But not forgotten.
Right after Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin as president in May 2012, the spokesman for the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, said the committee would look into the objectivity and independence of the experts. Already in the fall of 2012, some experts were interrogated, their offices and even houses searched, their computers and documents seized.