June 11, 2005
Russia: Khodorkovsky's Fall
BY Jackie Bennion
Khodorkovsky behind bars.
After spending the last 17 months in jail, Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been sentenced to 9 years in prison on an assortment of corporate crimes. The political trial, which has become a public spectacle in Russia over the last 11 months, has left the rest of the country's business elite wondering who's next for the Kremlin's wrath. The 41-year-old Khodorkovsky epitomized the young oligarchs who became super-wealthy in the early 1990s when Russia began chaotically selling off its state-owned industries.
It's no secret that Putin has been gunning for Khodorkovsky, ever since the oligarch, once worth around $15 billion, began funding opposition candidates and showing political aspirations of his own. After he was marched off his private jet at gunpoint by security forces in 2003, Khodorkovsky and his giant oil company Yukos -- hit with $27 billion in state taxes -- have been brought to their knees.
When Sabrina Tavernise interviewed Khodorkovsky for FRONTLINE/World 18 months ago, it was one of his last as a free man. He talked to her then about his battles with the Kremlin and it was clear that Khodorkovsky was under threat -- other oligarchs had already fled the country -- and making his case to an international audience. Surprisingly, the Bush administration has expressed little support for the embattled capitalist moguls, even for a fellow oil man like Khodorkovsky. It's worth watching the show again to see a personable and expansive Khodorkovsky and some of the other young oligarchs interviewed who were heading for trouble.