Russian oil tycoon detained

Russia's richest man and Kremlin opponent, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, faces another three months in jail after a court ruled he must stay behind bars until March 25, after the presidential election.

    A smiling Khodorkovsky leaves a Moscow court

    Moscow's Basmanny Court on Tuesday granted a request by prosecutors to prolong the pre-trial custody of the former boss of the Yukos oil giant, Khodorkovsky's lawyers told reporters outside the courthouse following a two-day hearing.
    They immediately announced they would appeal the ruling, accusing the court of favouring the prosecution and branding the fraud and tax evasion charges against the billionaire tycoon as politically-motivated.

    "We consider that the judges' actions prove their bias," attorney Genrikh Pavda told Moscow Echo radio. Khodorkovsky returned to the same court that approved his arrest on October 25.

    "I suspect there is strong political motivation behind this criminal case," another of his lawyers, Karina Moskalenko, said.

    The court ruling means that Khodorkovsky will remain in prison at least 11 days after the March 14 election in which Putin is expected to easily win another term.

    Political finance

    Analysts say that Khodorkovsky and his Yukos company are being hounded because he financed opposition parties that threatened Putin's control of parliament.

    Detainee's company, Yukos,
    financed Russian opposition parties

    In the end, liberal and Communist opposition parties backed by Khodorkovsky were crushed by pro-Putin forces in parliamentary elections earlier this month, which handed the government a two-thirds majority.

    Khodorkovsky's lawyers complained that they had been given no time to study prosecutors' arguments for extending custody or to consult with their client, and rejected claims that he was planning to leave the country or put pressure on witnesses.

    "The ruling discredits the notion of an independent court and shows that the trial (of Khodorkovsky) will not be a fair trial," said Maxim Dbar, spokesman for the Yukos-financed Open Russia foundation.

    Fraud and embezzlement

    Khodorkovsky faces seven charges of tax fraud and embezzlement from the mid 1990s that came as he and partners were building an energy empire that has since turned into Russia's largest oil company.

    "The ruling discredits the notion of an independent court and shows that the trial (of Khodorkovsky) will not be a fair trial" 

    Maxim Dbar
    Spokesman for the Yukos-financed Open Russia foundation

    He faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted and the possibility of losing his dominant stake in Yukos, which has been frozen along with shares held by his partners, which in total amounts to 40 percent of Yukos capital.

    The 40-year-old businessman, whose company has been under the blows of prosecutors since June, appeared in court for the second day of closed-door proceedings, locked behind a metal cage in the courtroom.
    The future of Yukos, Russia's largest oil producer, has seemed increasingly in doubt with all of its main shareholders either in jail or in exile.

    The company was forced to abort a merger with rival Sibneft that would have created the world's fourth-largest oil major and faces the threat of a five-billion-dollar (four-billion-euro) tax bill and being stripped of its oil production licenses.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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