STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights said on Tuesday it had found no proof that Russia's jailing of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on fraud and tax evasion charges was politically motivated.
The Strasbourg-based court said, however, that it had found irregularities in the case against the former head of the Yukos oil company, who was jailed in 2003 and is set to remain in prison until 2016.
Khodorkovsky could appeal Tuesday's decision by taking his case to a higher chamber at the court.
"Mr Khodorkovsky's case might raise some suspicion as to what the real intent of the Russian authorities might have been for prosecuting him, (but) claims of political motivation behind prosecution required incontestable proof, which had not been presented," the court said in an initial judgment on an appeal by Khodorkovsky to his conviction.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, fell foul of the Kremlin during Vladimir Putin's presidency.
After a first conviction in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges, he was then found guilty in a different case last year of stealing billions of dollars of oil from Yukos subsidiaries through price mechanisms and laundering some of the money.
Khodorkovsky's lawyers say the case against him is politically motivated, and the affair has raised concerns in the West about Russia's commitment to the rule of law.
(Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac; Writing by Leigh Thomas; editing by Ralph Boulton)