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Court rules against Russia over Yukos affair

Former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2005 AFP

Switzerland's highest court has refused to hand over bank documents to Russia for its investigation into the bankrupt Yukos oil company.

The Federal Court said on Thursday that Russia’s judicial standards fell short of the international norms needed to comply with the request. The court also questioned the Kremlin’s political motives.

The Lausanne-based court said that it had accepted appeals lodged by six plaintiffs aimed at stopping the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office from handing over the documents to Moscow.

Among the complainants was former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is currently serving an eight year sentence in a Siberian prison after being convicted on tax evasion and fraud charges.

Russia has been seeking to obtain documents from Switzerland on companies and banks linked to Yukos, once the largest oil producer in the country, as part of its investigation into the firm.

The Federal Court said in its ruling that the conditions for granting judicial aid had not been fully met.

The court added that according to human rights observers, the Kremlin had opened the case for political reasons to sideline “declared or potential political adversaries”.

The judges were also quoted as saying that the “political and discriminatory character of the procedure in Russia” was underlined by the “infringement of human rights and the right to defence which have apparently been committed throughout the procedure”.

Cooperation therefore had to be refused, they said.

Question marks

Khodorkovsky’s supporters believe that his trial was linked to his backing of Russia’s opposition party. However, critics have accused the Russian, once one of the country’s richest and most powerful men, of exploiting the country’s natural wealth for personal gain.

The Swiss foreign ministry and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office did not want to comment on the contents of the ruling, said reports.

Russia said it regretted the court decision, a representative of Russia’s embassy in Bern said.

“We will brief the Russian prosecutor’s office and consider whether to react or not,” a diplomatic source said.

Lawyers acting for Khodorkovsky have welcomed the Federal Court’s decision.

Swiss involvement in the Yukos affair goes back to 2004 when Switzerland blocked around SFr6 billion ($5 billion) in assets related to the case which were held in the country.

The Federal Court ordered the freeze to be lifted to a large extent later that year, leaving assets worth around SFr200-300 million still blocked in Switzerland.

On Friday the Prosecutor’s Office said it had unfrozen the funds and that for prosecutors, the case was closed.

swissinfo with agencies

In March 2004, the Swiss authorities blocked around SFr6 billion ($5 billion), said to have been put into Swiss accounts by Yukos management. In June 2004, a large part of these assets was unfrozen.

In early 2006 the Swiss Federal Court rejected several new requests for judicial assistance by Russia concerning the rest of the funds.

In December of that year, the Federal Prosecutor’s office ruled that bank documents related to the Yukos investigation should be handed over.

In a ruling made public on Thursday, the Federal Court decided against offering legal assistance concerning the documents, accepting six appeals against the December decision. The funds were unblocked on Friday.

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