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Friday, December 28, 2007

Annals of Khodorkovsky

RIA Novosti reports:

Russia's Supreme Court has overturned a lower court decision stating that a new investigation into the activities of jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner was illegal. The Supreme Court thereby upheld an appeal filed by the Prosecutor General's Office. It did not comment on its motives. A district court and the Moscow City Court had earlier upheld the illegitimacy of a new investigation.

Lawyers acting for Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev said they would appeal the Supreme Court's ruling at the European Court of Human Rights. "Everything that has taken place in connection with this case has already been translated into the official languages of the European Court," the former oil tycoon's lawyer, Yury Shmidt, said.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 and are currently serving eight-year prison sentences, were transferred to a detention center in Chita, east Siberia, last December for a new probe on charges of embezzling government shares, expropriating oil, and laundering $25 billion of illegal oil receipts in 1998-2004. Both businessmen have denied the accusations, calling them politically motivated. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev participated in the court session via a video link from Chita. Once Russia's largest oil producer, Yukos collapsed after tax evasion claims, which led to the company being broken up and sold off to meet debts. The bulk of its assets were acquired by government-controlled oil company Rosneft.

RIA also reports:

Santa Claus, known in Russia as Ded Moroz, will deliver presents and cards to jailed Yukos founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and his business partner Platon Lebedev. A Chita city court earlier extended custody for the former Yukos CEO and ex-Menatep Group head until February 8, 2008, over a new probe against the imprisoned former businessmen. "Santa Claus and his granddaughter Snegurochka will also decorate a Christmas tree near the prison," said Marina Savvateyeva, the chairman of a committee supporting the two jailed businessmen.

The new charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005, include stealing government shares, expropriating oil, and laundering $25 billion earned from oil sales in 1998-2004. Both businessmen have denied the allegations, calling them politically motivated. The new investigation against the Yukos founder was upheld by the Moscow City Court on September 19, and Russia's Supreme Court ruled on December 25 that the investigation was legal. Khodorkovsky, who acquired oil assets through controversial privatization deals in the 1990s, insists that his prosecution was orchestrated by the authorities to silence his criticism of President Vladimir Putin, and as part of a campaign to bring oil and gas assets under the Kremlin's control. Once Russia's largest oil producer, Yukos collapsed after claims of tax evasion, which led to the company being broken up and sold off to meet debts. The bulk of its assets were subsequently bought by government-controlled oil company Rosneft.

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