A TALE OF TWO DETENTIONS: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
21st Century Wire
“…this will be decided properly, independently by the British legal system respected throughout the world for its independence and integrity,” said then UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt immediately following the arrest of Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, on 11th April 2019.
The high profile trials of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, tried alongside his Yukos business partner Platon Lebedev, were widely criticised in the West, including by Britain, and therefore serve as a tool to compare against the UK’s treatment of Assange. Part 1 of this analysis will attempt to compare the way the British authorities treat Julian Assange to the way they have protected oligarchs fleeing Russia and protested the treatment of oligarchs convicted in Russia. In one case, the British authorities have applied human rights in their courts, while in another, they have removed human rights from their courts.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky – a case study
When Vladimir Putin first came to power in 1999, UK politicians like Tony Blair and David Cameron rode the wave of opportunity that Russia was open to business. Political leaders could be seen enjoying he perks which seemed part and parcel of that time; yachting with oligarchs and taking large party donations from Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man at the time, and one of the ‘Gangster capitalists‘ who made a fortune through his newly acquired oil company, Yukos. Oligarchs got rich from Russia’s state assets, bought at basement-bucket prices through Yeltsin’s loans-for-share scheme. They made money by rigging the auctions of state assets, paying a fraction of the value, then passing the proceeds to offshore shell companies. Money made through championed ‘capitalists’ of Russia eventually made its way back into the US, Europe and also Britain. Yukos has been described as “…a darling of the Western financial press until it collapsed.”
Interestingly, Khodorkovsky’s conviction for tax evasion in 2005 was received with outrage from Western leaders who claimed his prosecution was politically motivated. In a second trial in 2010,