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Khodorkovsky accused of stealing $32 bln in oil - extended

Jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev embezzled more than $32 bln worth of oil from 1998 to 2003, the Prosecutor General's Office said on its Web site today.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who are serving eight years for fraud and tax evasion, stole oil from the three biggest production units that belonged to now bankrupt OAO Yukos Oil Co., prosecutors said on their Web site, detailing new charges against the two men. The prosecutors charged Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, and Lebedev with money laundering and embezzlement on February 5, potentially adding at least 15 years to their sentences. Khodorkovsky would hav been eligible for parole in late October. On his Web site three days ago, Khodorkovsky called the new charges a „disgraceful farce” intended to keep him in prison through national elections. Russia holds parliamentary elections in December, followed three months later with a vote to replace President Vladimir Putin. Prosecutors said the former Yukos executives and owners misnamed oil from units OAO Yuganskneftegaz, OAO Samaraneftegaz and OAO Tomskneft as „well liquid” and resold it through affiliated companies to legalize „450 billion rubles and $7.5 billion” in profits from 1998 to 2004.

Yukos produced 347 million tons of oil from 1998 to 2003 (1.1 million barrels a day), according to the company's Web site. The average price for Brent crude oil then was about $23 a barrel, according to Bloomberg data. Yukos lost almost two-thirds of its output after the Yugansk unit was sold in 2004 by the government to cover back taxes. State-run OAO Rosneft, which Putin is building into an international oil company, bought Yugansk. Russia plans to start selling Yukos's remaining assets by April to pay off the company's $26 billion in outstanding debts, the largest part of which is owed to the tax service. Appraisers last month valued what remains of Yukos, including Tomskneft and Samaraneftegaz, at more than $22 billion. Prosecutors today also accused Khodorkovsky and Lebedev of causing „significant” harm to the state by stealing shares in units of OAO Eastern Oil Co., another Yukos unit, in 1998. They didn't estimate a cost of the damages. (Bloomberg)