MOSCOW — To Russian prosecutors, imprisoned oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is guilty of more crimes: They say he stole nearly $30 billion in oil from his own company and laundered the proceeds. To others, he is a dissident who stood up to the powerful Vladimir Putin.
Whatever he is, Khodorkovsky, once the country's richest man, could be spending more time in jail. And many here point to one man: Putin.
Khodorkovsky's conviction by a judge on Monday of stealing from his company, Yukos, demonstrated that little has changed under Putin's successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, despite his promises to strengthen the rule of law and make courts an independent branch of government.
The verdict showed that Putin, now the prime minister, still holds great power. This month, he said, Khodorkovsky was a proven criminal who should sit in prison.
Hundreds of Khodorkovsky supporters rallied outside the courthouse, holding up signs saying "Freedom" and "Russia without Putin." Police detained some of them.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led a chorus of political figures in the United States and Europe in condemning the verdict. It "raises serious questions about selective prosecution and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations," she said.
Khodorkovsky, 47, is nearing the end of an eight-year sentence after being convicted of tax fraud in a case seen as punishment for challenging the Kremlin's economic and political power, in part by funding opposition parties in parliament.
Putin, who was president at the time and is seen as the driving force behind the latest trial, has not ruled out a return to the presidency in 2012. He appears unwilling to risk the possibility that a freed Khodorkovsky could help unite and lead his political foes.
Judge Viktor Danilkin found Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev guilty of stealing nearly $30 billion worth of the oil that Yukos produced from 1998 to 2003 and laundering the proceeds. The conviction could keep Khodorkovsky behind bars until at least 2017.