Hail to the Thief
by Stephen Lendman
On December 19, Vladimir Putin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He did it a day after announcing he'd do so.
Western media scoundrels reacted as expected. They praised his release. They denounced Putin earlier for imprisoning him. More on this below.
Until his October 2003 arrest, Kordorkovsky was Russia's richest man. He headed the oil giant Yukos. Forbes ranked him 16th on their global billionaires list.
He made money the old-fashioned way. He profited hugely from Soviet Russia's dissolution. He bought Siberian oil fields and other state assets advantageously. He did so at a small fraction of their real value.
Charges against him said:
"In 1994, while chairman of the board of the Menatep commercial bank in Moscow, M. B. Khodorkovsky created an organized group of individuals with the intention of taking control of the shares in Russian companies during the privatisation process through deceit and in the process of committing this crime managed the activities of this company."
Acccusations included tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement and money laundering. He claimed they were politically motivated.
His lawyers said senior Kremlin officials targeted him for supporting Putin opponents.
In July 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected his accusation. He claimed his imprisonment was "politically motivated from start to finish."
The Court said charges against him and co-defendant Platon Lebedev had a "healthy core."
"The Court was prepared to admit that some government officials had their own reasons to push for the applicants' prosecution."
"However, it was insufficient to conclude that the applicants would not have been convicted otherwise."
"None of the accusations against the applicants had concerned their political activities. The applicants were not opposition leaders or public officials, and the acts they stood accused of were not directly related to their participation in political life."
ECHR's ruling pertained to Khordorkovsky's first trial. It involved his main business partner Platon Lebedev. They were sentenced to eight years in prison.
In 2009, they were retried. They were found guilty of stealing 350 million tons of oil and money laundering. They received 14-year sentences.
They were to be served concurrently with existing prison terms. On review, sentences were reduced to 11 years. In 2014, they were set to be completed.
On November 2, 2010, Khodorkovsky told the court at the conclusion of his second trial:
"I am ashamed for my country."
"Your honor, I think we all perfectly understand the significance of our trial extends far beyond the fates of Platon (Lebedev) and myself."
"And even beyond the fates of all those who have innocently suffered in the course of the reprisals against Yukos that have taken place on such a huge scale, those I found myself unable to protect, but about whom I have not forgotten. I remember every day."
"Let's ask ourselves, what does the entrepreneur, the top class organizer of production, or simply an educated, creative individual, think today looking at our trial and knowing that the result is absolutely predictable?"
"The obvious conclusion a thinking person would come to is chilling in its simplicity: the bureaucratic and law enforcement machine can do whatever it wants."
"There is no right of private property. No person who conflicts with the 'system' has any rights whatsoever."
"Even when enshrined in law, rights are not protected by the courts. Because the courts are either also afraid, or are part of the 'system.' Does it come as a surprise that thinking people do not strive to realize themselves here in Russia?"
He added that he's "far from being an ideal person." He didn't explain why not.
Ahead of Kordorkovsky's second conviction, New York Times editors accused Moscow of "strong-arm tactics." They said they had "little to do with battling economic (wrongdoing) and a lot to do with" Russia's upcoming elections.
The Washington Post claimed "no one is safe from arbitrary prosecution, or from the political whims of the Kremlin."
The State Department accused Moscow of "selective prosecution," adding:
"We are concerned about the rule of law, about maintaining the basic freedom of Russians."
America is the world's worst human rights abuser by far. Fundamental ones are systematically violated at home and abroad.
Thousands of political prisoners languishing in its gulag alone attest to its lawlessness. Inhumanity is longstanding US policy.
On December 28, 2010, New York Times editors headlined "What Rule of Law?"
Then President Dmitri Medvedev can prove his claim about being a "champion (of) the rule of law," they said.
He can do so by "ensur(ing) Khodordovsky faces no additional prison time after being convicted on trumped-up embezzlement charges this week."
Times editors accused then Prime Minister Putin of a "judicial vendetta." They admitted Khodorkovsky "is no paragon of virtue."
They called him "a robber baron." At the same time, they said his 2005 conviction "reeked of selective prosecution." Other oligarchs weren't targeted. Why him, they asked?
A White House statement accused Moscow of "abusive use of the legal system." It warned about damaging US/Russian relations.
The Senate passed a non-binding resolution. It called Khororkovsky and Lebedev "prisoners who have been denied due process rights under international law for political reasons."
Following his release, The New York Times said he's "free to speak about Russia, but from a safe distance." It added there's "nothing penitent about him."
Washington Post editors headlined "A Russian human rights victory that shouldn't be the last," saying:
"No doubt (Putin) will be congratulated for this step." They claimed "Kordorkovsky never should have been jailed in the first place."
Putin "prosecute(d) (him) on trumped-up charges," they said. They claimed it was done to "confiscate his company."
They called both his prosecutions "Orwellian." They accused Putin of "relentless repression." Bashing him is longstanding policy. It's retaliation against his outspokenness.
Years earlier, he accused Washington of operating "like a parasite on the global economy." It's in "systemic malfunction." It's "build(ing) a unipolar world and rule over all mankind."
"Nothing of this kind has ever occurred in our planet's history, and I don't think it will ever happen," he added.
Before Soviet Russia's dissolution, Khordovosky was a regime bureaucrat. In 1987, he used his All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (aka Komsomol) influence advantageously.
He did so to organize Menatep. It was supposed to promote inventions and industrial innovation. It was transformed into a multi-billon dollar holding company.
It used stolen state funds. It was involved in banking. It was linked to Yukos.
In the 1990s, Khordorkovsky used ill-gotten gains to amass greater ones. He bought state assets at a small fraction of their value.
Doing so amounted to theft of state property. He and other oligarchs profited hugely. In 1995, he bought Yukos for 0 million.
In 2003, its market value was billion. He profited hugely from Boris Yeltsin's shock therapy. He did so at the expense of most Russians.
During Yeltsin's tenure, about 80% of Russia's farmers went bankrupt. Around 70,000 state factories closed.
An unemployment epidemic followed. Half the country became impoverished. A permanent underclass was created.
Crimes, suicides, mortality, alcoholism, drug abuse, and HIV/AIDS soared to intolerable levels. GDP plunged 50%. Life expectancy plummeted to around 57 years.
A handful of oligarchs profited hugely. They did so at the expense of Russia's economy. They wrecked it for personal gain. They harmed millions of ordinary Russians egregiously.
Many continue to suffer. Millions of Russians subsist on less than a month. Poverty remains around 50%. Millions are ill-nourished. Life is hard for most ordinary people.
Khordorkovsky did more than amass huge riches. He used them to bankroll opposition parties. He was close to US political leaders.
He negotiated with US oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron. He did so to buy a 50% stake in Yukos.
He broke a Kremlin/oligarch covenant not to engage in politics. He planned to break Russia's oil pipeline monopoly.
He proposed constructing his own network. Doing so would give him control over what foreign buyers could receive Russian oil.
Allegations suggested he was involved in murdering or attempted murders of business rivals. One killing was committed on his birthday.
Allegedly it was a present to please him. He was the biggest post-Soviet Russia winner. A handful of billionaire oligarchs got control of around 70% of the nation's wealth.
Doing so amounted to grand theft on an unprecedented scale. Post-911, Wall Street crooks surpassed it. Predatory capitalism shows no mercy.
Monied interests rule the world. The criminal class in Washington and other Western capitals is bipartisan. Ordinary people suffer hugely.
After 10 years in prison, Khordorkovsky is now free. He flew straightaway to Germany. He thanked Chancellor Merkel and former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. They helped arrange his release.
Efforts to portray him as a martyr don't wash. Balzac once said behind every great fortune lies a great crime.
Billionaire Russian oligarchs reflect it. They amassed enormous ill-gotten gains unjustifiably. Rarely are privileged class members held accountable.
Wall Street's business model is fraud and grand theft. Top officials steal freely. Washington complicity permits it.
December 23 was the Federal Reserve's 100th anniversary. A previous article discussed 100 years of financial terrorism.
It makes Khordorkovsky and other Russian oligarchs look like pickpockets by comparison.
US business as usual benefits few hugely at the expense of most others. Bipartisan complicity permits it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.