Russia to detail new charges against jailed tycoon

Prosecutors on Tuesday were to present new charges against Russia’s former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky amid questions over why authorities were putting the jailed tycoon on trial for a second time.

Khodorkovsky—who is already serving an eight-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion—could be handed an additional jail term of more than two decades if found guilty on the new charges of massive financial crimes.

The trial into the former CEO of the Yukos oil firm had opened on March 3 with procedural hearings and the Moscow court will now start examining the case proper, starting with a detailed presentation of the charges by prosecutors.

Prosecutors accuse Khodorkovsky and co-defendant Platon Lebedev of embezzling hundreds of tons of oil worth 892,4-billion rubles (about $25-billion) from three Yukos subsidiaries between 1998 and 2004.

They are also accused of then laundering part of the proceeds, amounting to 487,4-billion rubles ($14-billion) in Russian currency and $7,5-billion in hard currency.

“The potential jail term, under a worst-case scenario, is 22 years,” Khodorkovsky’s lead lawyer Vadim Kluvgant said in an interview with the opposition weekly the New Times.

“Everything we are going to do is to show what kind of case this is and how it came about. In other words, whether this case is a search for truth or a way of settling scores.”

Russia insists it is treating Khodorkovsky fairly and that he is guilty of massive financial crimes stemming from the controversial privatisation deals of the 1990s that created a small class of super-rich “oligarchs”.

Prosecutor general Yuri Chaika has insisted that the new charges refer to grave crimes and have been pressed after an exhaustive legal investigation.

Supporters of Khodorkovsky say he was targeted because he had been funding opponents of then-president Vladimir Putin ahead of parliamentary elections at the time of his arrest in October 2003.

Khodorkovsky’s allies had hoped that new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would take a more lenient line towards the jailed tycoon after promising to end legal nihilism in Russia.

But the emergence of the second trial has dashed these hopes and Medvedev said on Sunday in an interview with the BBC that the issue was a purely legal matter.

“Neither the president, not anyone else has the right to interfere in that situation,” he said.

Khodorkovsky’s lawyers have vehemently criticised the charges, questioning how it could be possible for two men to embezzle an amount of crude oil equivalent to Russia’s entire annual output at that time.

His defence has also accused prosecutors of effectively charging their clients twice with the same crime as the embezzlement accusation relates to the tax evasion that Khodorkovsky was jailed for in the first pace.

“On the embezzlement. It is about ...
evading taxes. Khodorkovsky was jailed for that four years ago,” Russian Newsweek editor Mikhail Fishman wrote in an editorial on Monday for an issue whose cover boldly read “Who needs this?”.

“About the laundering. This means they stole the oil and sold it for money. I’m not a lawyer but it sounds strange. A thief steals a purse, takes the money from it and puts it in a bank. Do you try him both for theft and laundering?”—AFP

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