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Russia seeks 6 extra years in jail for tycoon
Sat, Oct 23, 2010
Reuters

MOSCOW - Russian prosecutors Friday demanded that jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky be imprisoned for an additional six years if convicted in a politically charged second trial.

Supporters have cast both trials as part of a Kremlin-driven campaign of revenge for perceived political, economic and personal challenges to Vladimir Putin, who was president at the time of his arrest and retains much power as Prime Minister.

Prosecutors asked for a 14-year prison sentence but said it should include the eight-year term that Khodorkovsky is serving, which is due to end in October 2011. Defence lawyers said the requested sentence was one year short of the maximum allowed.

It would keep the former Yukos oil company chief in prison into 2017 and likely fuel further criticism of the Kremlin, which opponents say uses Russia's courts to impose its will.

"For a person who did not commit any crime this is still too much," said Maxim Dbar, a spokesman for Khodorkovsky's legal team.

Prosecutors made the request as they wrapped up closing arguments in the second trial of Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev, which is seen as a test of President Dmitry Medvedev's vows to improve Russia's justice system.

Khodorkovsky, dressed in black and sitting in a bullet-proof glass cage in the courtroom, listened carefully to prosecutor Valery Lakhtin's statement but did not react. His defence lawyers are due to begin their closing arguments next week.

Once Russia's richest man, 47-year-old Khodorkovsky has one year left to serve in the eight-year sentence imposed after a high-profile fraud and tax evasion trial that tarnished Russia's image during Putin's 2000-2008 presidency.

Back tax

In the second trial, which has been grinding on in a drab Moscow courtroom for more than a year and a half, Khodorkovsky stands accused of stealing $27 billion worth of oil from Yukos production subsidiaries in 1998-2003.

Putin has called Khodorkovsky a criminal with blood on his hands, citing the conviction of a former Yukos security chief on two murder charges, and has tried to reassure investors worried about property rights by insisting Yukos is a special case.

Khodorkovsky's lawyers say a verdict could come before the end of the year.

The prosecution of Khodorkovsky and other Yukos officers helped Putin boost state control over the oil industry, a crucial source of budget funds in the economic boom fed largely by high world oil prices during Putin's presidency.

After the tycoon's October 2003 arrest, Yukos collapsed under the weight of massive back-tax claims and was sold off, with its main production subsidiaries ending up in the hands of state-run Rosneft.

The prosecution claims Khodorkovsky stole oil by buying it from the subsidiaries at artificially low prices and selling it for far higher prices, and laundered a portion of the proceeds.

When first announced, the charges carried a maximum of 22.5 years, but a retroactive change in sentencing rules for economic crimes introduced by Medvedev earlier this year reduced the maximum sentence for the charges to 15 years, prosecutors said.

Defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said the law obliged the judge to count Khodorkovsky's current eight-year prison term against any new sentence.

"The judge is obliged to take into account the sentence from the first trial," Klyuvgant said by telephone.

"That is what the law says, but there is no law here."

After the defense makes its arguments, judge Viktor Danilkin will consider his verdict, possibly for several weeks. It could also take him days or weeks to read out the verdict.

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