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Putin not to Interfere in Yukos Case

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he would not discuss with Russian entrepreneurs and politicians about the detention of the oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Interfax news agency reported Monday.

This is the first statement made by the Russian president on Saturday's arrest of Khodorkovsky, head of Russia's largest oil company Yukos.

Putin made the statement at a government meeting, saying that "there will be no meetings, no bargaining about the activities of law-enforcement departments, of course if they are acting in line with Russian law."

Politicians and a Russian union of businessmen earlier asked Putin for a meeting concerning the arrest of Khodorkovsky, also known as the richest man in the country.

Putin called to stop all speculation and hysteria over the case, and the government should not be involved in discussions over possible de-privatization. The issue must not be amplified or exaggerated.

"It is necessary to stress that there will be no generalizations, analogies, precedents, especially relating to privatization results, in connection with the case," Putin was quoted as saying.

Khodorkovsky was arrested on Saturday morning on seven charges including fraud, forgery, embezzlement and tax evasion and was later put into a detention center in Moscow. A senior justice official said Monday that the billionaire feels fine and has no complains about the administration of the prison.

Khodorkovsky has rejected all the charges brought against him by the prosecutors, and his lawyers are planning to appeal against the arrest. The Yukos leadership described the charges as "absolutely unfounded" and "ridiculous," condemning the arrest as obviously political-motivated.

Putin confirmed the exclusive rights of the court, which is the only one to authorize a person's arrest, while executive authorities and prosecutors are not qualified to do that.

"Those who think that a person is guilty must prove his culpability," said Putin, stressing that "the final say belongs to the court."

Putin insisted that everyone must be equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of how much wealth he owns. Failing to do so, "we will never create an economically efficient and socially verified tax system," the state leader was quoted as saying.

The country's main index, the RTS, which in recent months has powered to record highs on widespread optimism about Russia's booming oil-driven economy, plummeted by more than 12 percent in the first hours of trading.

Yukos shares shed by 19.90 percent within an hour of opening, prompting RTS officials to suspend trading in Yukos shares for one hour at 0900 GMT.

Analysts have warned that Khodorkovsky's arrest would scare off investors from Russia.

Stock price of Yukos plunged by nearly 20 percent on Monday, the first trading day after Khodorkovsky was jailed at the weekend.   

The Russian stock market suspended trading of Yukos shares on the benchmark RTS index for one hour after the stock price dropped to US$11.55 per share from Friday's close of US$14.57, wiping more than US$7 billion off its market capitalization.

Businessmen and experts feared that the arrest of Khodorkovsky would negatively impact Russia's investment environment.

(Xinhua News Agency October 28, 2003)

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