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Moscow Court Orders Arrest of Russia's Richest Man

A Moscow court has sanctioned the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the chief of Russia's largest oil producer Yukos after he was charged with large-scale fraud, tax evasion and other offenses, Interfax reported Saturday.

Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, was detained Saturday morning by the FSB agents at the airport of Russia's Siberian city of Novosibirsk, where his plane landed to refuel en route from Nizhny Novgorod to Irkutsk.


Prosecutors said Khodorkovsky was detained because he had failed to come for questioning.


He was then brought to the Prosecutor General's Office in Moscow and questioned.


The prosecutors filed charges against Khodorkovsky under seven articles of the Criminal Code and asked for court permission to take Khodorkovsky into custody.


Prosecutors accuse Khodorkovsky and his banker Platon Lebedev of causing damage of more than US$1 billion and claim that the Russian state is one of the alleged victims.


"The damage caused by Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, including their damage to national interests, is estimated by the investigators at more than US$1 billion," the Interfax quoted a spokesman at Russia's Prosecutor General's Office as saying.


Yukos, however, condemned the arrest as an "obviously political motivation" and said it "will not seriously affect" its business.


Yukos considers "the brutal coercion used against the head of one of the largest oil companies of the world a humiliation for the entire Russian law enforcement system," said a statement issued by the company.


The company also vowed to "strictly fulfill its obligations to investors and creditors."


Judicial campaign against Yukos began in July when its core company shareholder Platon Lebedev was arrested on charges of theft of state property in a 1994 privatization deal. The accusations have since mounted to include charges of murder, attempted murder and tax evasion.


Another Yukos shareholder, Vasily Shakhnovsky, was charged with tax evasion last week, and prosecutors have said they expect to bring charges against other senior Yukos managers soon.


Khodorkovsky, who was questioned by prosecutors two days after Lebedev's detention, has repeatedly described the campaign against his company as politically-motivated, and vowed not to flee Russia into exile.


Top Russian businessmen and politicians have expressed deep concern over the developments around Yukos.


Gennady Zyuganov, Russian Communist Party leader, said he was "extremely worried" over Khodorkovsky's arrest.


Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, Russia's two key liberal parties, said that the arrest of Khodorkovsky was worsening the political situation in the country and "calls into question the immutability of the Russian constitution."


"Russian business believes that the law enforcement system and its leaders have worsened the situation in society and undermined entrepreneurs' trust in them," Russia's Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais said.


Under these circumstances, numerous companies are modifying their business strategies and changing investment decisions that are of key importance to Russia, he said.


"Only Russian President Vladimir Putin's clear and unambiguous position can stop these developments," he emphasized.


(Xinhua News Agency October 26, 2003)




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