Scenarios: Likely outcomes of Khodorkovsky’s trial

By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW (BestGrowthStock) – A Russian judge who declared jailed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty of stealing 350 million tonnes of oil worth billions of dollars edged toward a sentence this week in the high-profile case.

Below are the most likely scenarios:

PRISON SENTENCE OF SIX MORE YEARS

Political analysts and investors expect Khodorkovsky to be sentenced to six more years in prison, as requested by prosecutors at his second trial. This would keep him in jail until late 2017.

Kremlin critics saw Khodorkovsky’s 2005 fraud and tax evasion conviction as Kremlin-inspired retribution against Khodorkovsky for challenging then-president Vladimir Putin on issues such as corruption and using oil revenues to fund opposition groups.

A six-year sentence would emphasize Putin’s role as Russia’s paramount leader, even though as prime minister he is officially subordinate to President Medvedev.

The sentence would dampen hopes that Medvedev, Putin’s protege who succeeded him as president in 2008, has sufficient will or power to keep his promises to liberalize society, reform state institutions and strengthen the rule of law.

LIGHTER SENTENCE

A sentence significantly shorter than six years could help the Kremlin save face, vindicating the guilty verdict while giving ground on what has turned into an international cause celebre and signaling that reform may be at hand.

It could minimize the risk of significant damage to the White House-Kremlin “reset” that has produced an improvement in Russian-U.S. ties.

A lighter sentence would send a mixed messages to analysts and investors looking for progress on issues such as corruption, described by Western executives as the biggest barrier to doing business in Russia.

Medvedev and Putin have set strikingly different tones on Khodorkovsky’s trial. Asked about the trial, Putin quoted a line from a Soviet film: “A thief must sit in jail.”

Medvedev said no government official had the right to comment on the case before the verdict, raising the possibility of disagreement between the two over Khodorkovsky’s fate.

Putin and Medvedev have said they will decide together who will run in 2012. Any signs of competition could endanger the stability that Russians and investors cherish.

MEDVEDEV INTERVENTION

Kremlin intervention in the appears unlikely but a presidential pardon would be the most interesting and politically loaded outcome.

It would be a victory for Medvedev in asserting his power as president. Russians widely see him as content to play second fiddle.

It would show clear political ambition in the next presidential election and could cause discord with Putin, who is seen as the real decision maker in the case.

The legal conditions surrounding a pardon are murky and legal experts and government officials have contradicted each other, leaving it unclear whether Khodorkovsky would have to admit guilt and ask forgiveness to receive a pardon.

SUSPENDED SENTENCE

A suspended sentence could indicate that the Kremlin does not see Khodorkovsky as a political threat or believes he has served his punishment.

It might play to Medvedev’s reformist promises, but it would by no means indicate it was his own decision. It could be interpreted as a sign that Putin believes he has more to lose by keeping Khodorkovsky in jail.

Although investors see the Khodorkovsky case as a one-off, it has affected Russia’s image and a suspended sentence could possibly attract new investment into the country.

(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)

Scenarios: Likely outcomes of Khodorkovsky’s trial