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Prosecutors request extension to Khodorkovsky pre-trial detention

MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has requested that the pre-trial detention of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and business partner Platon Lebedev be extended pending a new trial on charges of money laundering, lawyers said Thursday.

On March 26, Moscow's Basmanny Court rejected an appeal by Khodokovsky's and Lebedev's lawyers, demanding that their defendants be transferred to a Moscow pre-trial detention center from Siberia, as the hearing into the new case should be held where the alleged crime took place.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, both of whom are serving eight-year sentences in Siberia for fraud and tax evasion, were charged with money laundering February 5. In mid-December they were transferred to a pre-trial investigation center near the city of Chita at the demand of the Prosecutor General's Office.

The Basmanny Court ruled last week that a preliminary investigation in East Siberia into the new criminal case against Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev was illegal.

Khodorkovsky's lawyer Yury Shmidt said, "The term of Khodorkovsky's arrest expires April 7. The court [in Chita] will consider the appeal of the Prosecutor General's Office on the extension of pre-trial detention April 3."

Lebedev's lawyer Yelena Liptser said the extension of her defendant's pre-trial detention will be considered April 4.

Liptser said her client's transfer to Chita "is not based on common sense" and is a violation of the Russian Constitution, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the European Human Rights Convention.

She said Lebedev is not permitted long meetings with relatives or walks at the pre-trial detention center but prosecutors denied any biased attitude toward Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, and said their rights were not being violated.

The Prosecutor General's Office is now accusing Khodorkovsky and Lebedev of stealing $32-billion-worth of oil from Samaraneftegaz, Yuganskneftegaz and Tomskneft in 1998-2003, which the two businessmen allegedly documented as "oil-well liquid."

Prosecutors said Khodorkovsky and Lebedev later resold the oil to end customers for triple the price via bogus firms registered both inside and outside Russia. The scheme helped launder a total of 450 billion rubles ($17 billion) and $7.5 billion, prosecutors said.

The Prosecutor General's Office also alleges that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are guilty of embezzling receipts from Yukos subsidiaries Fargoil and Ratibor, and of laundering the money through the Open Russia Foundation, a charitable organization established by Khodorkovsky in 2001 as a private endowment to assist academic institutions and non-governmental organizations in Russia.

Khodorkovsky, who acquired oil assets through controversial privatization deals in the early-1990s, has insisted his prosecution was orchestrated by the authorities to silence his criticism of President Vladimir Putin and as part of a campaign to bring mineral assets under Kremlin control.

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