A number of Western politicians urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to "end the persecution" of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a letter published by the Financial Times on Tuesday.
The letter, released a day before the verdict in trial on a second set of charges against Khodorkovsky, was signed by two former British foreign ministers, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and David Miliband, and former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, among others.
The open letter said the campaign against the former head of the Yukos oil company and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, was political and "not truly motivated by law."
It also said that the trial had "shaken confidence in the Russian legal system."
The two men were arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud and tax evasion and sentenced to eight years in jail. A year before their scheduled release, they are facing fresh charges of embezzling 218 tons of oil from Yukos and laundering over 3 billion rubles ($97.5 million) in revenues that could extend their jail terms until 2017.
Although Medvedev is largely seen as the junior partner in the ruling tandem with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and is expected to hand back the keys to Kremlin to his powerful mentor at the 2012 presidential polls, a number of analysts believe he is beginning to forge his own political identity. The release of Khodorkovsky ahead of the polls would give the president a powerful boost should he buck expectations and challenge Putin, analysts suggest.
Others have said, however, that Khodorkovsky remains disliked by the vast majority of the population for his perceived role in the 1990s carve-up of Russia's natural resources and that Medvedev would have little to gain politically by the release of once Russia's richest man.
MOSCOW, December 14 (RIA Novosti)