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Khodorkovsky lawyers hail rare victory over Russian prosecutors

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's lawyers said they scored a rare legal victory against Russian prosecutors as they seek to defend the jailed billionaire from new charges.

Moscow's Basmanny court ruled that the interrogation of Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev in December was illegally held in the Siberian town of Chita, Maxim Dbar, a spokesman for Khodorkovsky's legal team, said by phone yesterday. The questioning should have been conducted in Moscow, where the alleged crimes took place, he said. The General Prosecutor's Office refused to comment when called by Bloomberg and nobody answered the phone at the court.

Prosecutors have 10 days to appeal the decision, Dbar said. Prosecutors last month charged Khodorkovsky and Lebedev with embezzling $32 billion, potentially adding at least 15 years to their sentences. Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, would have been eligible for parole in late October. „Nobody expected this because we haven't yet seen any court decisions that were based on the law,” Dbar said. In 2005, the Basmanny court sentenced Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to eight years in a prison camp for fraud and tax evasion. Khodorkovsky's OAO Yukos Oil Co. has since been crushed by billions of dollars in tax claims and now faces liquidation. The decision is significant because prosecutors probably planned to press new charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev in a Chita court, far from the publicity the trial would receive in Moscow, Dbar said. Khodorkovsky has been imprisoned in a penal colony near Chita, close to the Mongolian border. (Bloomberg)