A former official at the Russian court that tried Mikhail Khodorkovsky said in an interview published Friday that it wasn't the judge who decided the jailed ex-oil tycoon's fate.
Igor Kravchenko, a former administrator at the Moscow court, told Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's top independent newspapers, that Judge Viktor Danilkin admitted taking orders from other people.
"About the process this is what he said: 'In principle, I don't decide this. Whatever they say, that's what will be," Kravchenko was quoted as saying, adding that Danilkin "took advice from Moscow City Court" whenever he had questions on the case.
Khodorkovsky is serving a 14-year term after being found guilty in December of stealing more than $25 billion worth of oil from three subsidiaries of Yukos, his former oil company. He was already serving an eight-year term on similar charges that were widely seen as punishment for challenging then-President Vladimir Putin, and for threatening to sell off prized energy assets to U.S. companies.
Russian news agencies cited Moscow courts spokeswoman Anna Usachyova as refuting the accusation, calling upon the media "not to suck news out of their thumb."
Kravchenko is the second former court official to accuse Danilkin of failing to act independently, which the judge himself has repeatedly denied, but many observers had long suspected.
A former assistant to Danilkin who acted as the court's spokeswoman came out in February to say the guilty verdict was imposed upon him when it became clear his own ruling would not please top Russian officials.
"Danilkin began to write the verdict. I suspect that what was in that verdict did not suit his higher ups, and therefore he received another verdict, which he had to read," Natalya Vasilyeva said then in an interview broadcast on the cable television channel Dozhd. Vasilyeva said Moscow City Court wrote the verdict.
"Vasilyeva's interview is the truth," Kravchenko was quoted as saying. "She didn't say anything that people didn't already know. Lots of people can confirm her words."