Jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, serving eight years for fraud and tax evasion, called the new charges filed against him a „disgraceful farce” designed to keep him in prison through national elections.
„Those people who invented the „Khodorkovsky case” to steal Russia's most prosperous oil company, Yukos, are very afraid to see me free and want to insure themselves against my parole,” the former CEO of now bankrupt OAO Yukos Oil Co. said on his Web site today. Prosecutors this week charged Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, with money laundering and embezzlement, potentially adding at least 15 years to his sentence and all but ending any hope of parole when he becomes eligible in November. Russia holds parliamentary elections in December, followed three months later with the vote to replace President Vladimir Putin. Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, who together ran what was once Russia's biggest financial empire, were convicted in 2005 amid multibillion-dollar tax charges that drove Yukos to bankruptcy. The two have denied their guilt, saying their sentences were retribution for backing Putin's opponents. „These unfortunate people, it seems, believe that the human and historical appraisal of their actions depends on the next false verdict” of the Basmanny Court, Khodorkovsky said, referring to the courthouse where he and Lebedev were tried.
„They don't understand that with every new step they are making their position worse, driving themselves and their direct boss, Vladimir Putin, into a corner.” Khodorkovsky said. „I don't know if Putin will say 'thank you' to them for this.” Khodorkovsky, serving his sentence in a penal colony near the Mongolian border, and Lebedev, who is serving his above the Arctic Circle, were charged with embezzling and laundering more than $20 billion. Prosecutors allege a fraction of that sum was laundered through Open Russia, a charitable organization patterned after US billionaire George Soros's Open Society. The US State Department said the new charges undermine confidence in Russia's legal system. „The conduct of Russian authorities on the Khodorkovsky/Yukos affair has eroded Russia's reputation,” department spokesman Sean McCormack said February 5. At the time of his arrest in 2003, six weeks before the last parliamentary elections, Khodorkovsky was lobbying for constitutional changes to weaken the presidency and strengthen parliament, where he funded opposition lawmakers representing parties ranging from pro-market Yabloko to the Communists. Khodorkovsky was also seeking to merge Yukos with Roman Abramovich's OAO Sibneft and then sell a stake in the combination to Exxon Mobil Corp. or Chevron Corp. of the US. State-run OAO Gazprom later bought Sibneft for $13.1 billion and OAO Rosneft acquired Yukos's main production unit after it was seized by the state. (Bloomberg)