By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court cut the prison term of jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's business partner by more than three years on Wednesday, handing him a rare legal victory in a case lawyers say was politically motivated.
The ruling by a court in northern Russia, following an appeal, means Platon Lebedev, 55, will leave prison next March if it is not challenged by the state prosecution.
Like Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, Lebedev says his 13-year sentence for multi-billion-dollar theft and money laundering was particularly severe because the two men had fallen out with President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin.
The decision was not expected to affect Khodorkovsky, the former head of the oil company YUKOS, because he has not filed a similar appeal against his own 13-year sentence.
"Platon - if this decision is not appealed by the prosecution - must be freed on March 2, 2013," a lawyer for Lebedev, Vladimir Krasny, told Kommersant FM radio.
The chairman of Russia's Supreme Court last month ordered a lower court to review a separate appeal against Khodorkovsky's conviction.
Both men were arrested in 2003 in what supporters say was a Kremlin-driven campaign to punish Khodorkovsky for challenges to Putin, then in his first presidential term, and to increase Kremlin control over the lucrative oil industry.
They were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 and found guilty of theft and money laundering at a second trial in 2010. Both had been due for release in 2016 after their sentences were lengthened to 13 years following that trial.
In Lebedev's appeal, his lawyers said that because of legislative changes that have softened punishments for some financial crimes, including money laundering, Lebedev had already served his time and should be released.
Prosecutors said his sentence should be shortened by less than two years, but the court ordered it reduced to nine years and eight months, a statement on a website set up by lawyers and supporters said.
Prosecutors have 10 days to appeal, it said.
Vedomosti newspaper quoted Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, as saying the former oil tycoon had not filed a similar appeal.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, editing by Tim Pearce)