Russia’s Putin says Khodorkovsky “must be in jail”

MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin  told Russians yesterday that Mikhail Khodorkovsky belonged in  prison, drawing protests from the jailed tycoon’s lawyers who  said it amounted to pressure on a trial judge. 
 
Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, is awaiting a  verdict in a second trial and if found guilty of stealing $27  billion from his own company, he could be kept in jail past the  2012 presidential election. 

Putin, speaking in his annual question-and-answer session  with the Russian people, left little doubt about the denouement  of Russia’s biggest trial in years. 
 
“A thief must be in jail,” Putin said, quoting from a  popular Soviet-era film whose hero is a tough cop.  
Putin suggested again that Khodorkovsky, whom he has  compared to U.S. gangster Al Capone, was behind a string of  murders.  

Lawyers for Khodorkovsky said Putin’s remarks would pressure  the trial judge to hand down a guilty verdict and threatened to  file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. 
 
Putin’s silky performance in the marathon event, which ran  for a record 4 hours 25 minutes, demonstrated his authority as  Russia’s paramount leader and contrasted with President Dmitry  Medvedev’s lacklustre state of the nation speech on Nov 30.  

The 58-year-old former KGB spy, who served as Kremlin chief  from 2000-2008, dismissed a question from a Reuters reporter  about why he had said nothing about his plans for 2012.  

“We have gone over and over this, how much more can we talk  about it? 2012 is a long way off. Let’s see,” Putin said.  
Putin has repeatedly said he and Medvedev will decide who  runs in 2012 closer to the event. But a grinning Putin also read  out a question asking who ran the country when he was sleeping.  “We take turns sleeping.” 
 
Russia’s most popular politician, Putin fielded dozens of  questions on everything from poor local services and ethnic  tension to puppy training and his love of Japanese food. He  avoided mentioning the United States which he has often targeted  with harsh rhetoric in previous performances.

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