Russia's Supreme Court has ruled that jailed former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev should not have been held in a Moscow pre-trial detention center for three months during their second trial.
The businessmen's defense lawyers had appealed against the detention citing amendments to the criminal code adopted last April that abolished pre-trial detention for economic crimes.
Khodorkovsky, 47, and Lebedev, 54, were sentenced to 14 years each in December for oil embezzlement and money laundering. The term included the seven years they had already served, mostly in Chita in eastern Siberia, for tax evasion and money laundering. The pair were moved to a pre-trial detention center in Moscow in August and stayed there until hearings in their second court case finished in November.
"People who have stayed behind bars for eight years, cannot in principle, even if they wanted to, commit anything so serious that would require punishment like that," said Vadim Klyuvgant, a lawyer for Khodorkovsky.
Conditions in Russian pre-trial detention centers are often far worse than in prisons and some lawyers and human rights campaigners say they are used by the authorities to put pressure on defendants.
Khodorkovsky attended the Supreme Court hearings on Friday and said that although the court ruling would not affect his fate or that of Lebedev, it was still a matter of "important principle" as it would set a precedent.
"Officials twist the Criminal Code whichever way they like, as if it were made of rubber, and thereby erase the distinction between criminals and legal businessmen," Khodorkovsky said. "There is no difference under the law on whether you steal or kill somebody."
Prosecutor Valery Lakhtin said he did not consider Khodorkovsky and Lebedev's crimes as economic.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have repeatedly denied all the charges against them, saying they are politically motivated. The latest sentence means the two men are expected to remain in jail until 2017, having been due for release later this year.
MOSCOW, April 15 (RIA Novosti)