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Siberian court extends custody of ex-Yukos chief until Feb. 7

CHITA (Eastern Siberia), December 12 (RIA Novosti) - A court in east Siberia has extended the custody of Mikhail Khodorkovsky until February 7 on a request from the General Prosecutor's Office, a lawyer of the jailed Yukos founder said on Wednesday.

"The defense for Khodorkovsky intends to appeal against this decision in the Chita district court," Semyon Rozenberg said.

Earlier, the court extended the custody of Khodorkovsky's business partner Platon Lebedev until February 8, following a request from the General Prosecutor's Office.

On September 27, the court extended the custody of Khodorkovsky until January 2 over a new probe against the imprisoned former Yukos chief. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are serving an eight-year prison sentence in Siberia for fraud and tax evasion.

The Yukos oil company formally ceased to exist after the completion of its liquidation process in November. Yukos paid off more than 710 billion rubles (about $28.4 billion) to its creditors from proceeds from liquidation auctions.

The new probe against the Yukos founder was upheld by the Moscow City Court on September 19.

The new charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005, include stealing government shares, expropriating oil, and laundering $25 billion earned from oil sales in 1998-2004. Both businessmen have denied the allegations, calling them politically motivated.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed until December 20 hearings on the second probe against Khodorkovsky and Platonov, meeting Platonov's petition to be present at the court session to give personal testimony. The court ruled to ensure Platonov's participation via a video link-up.

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

Once Russia's largest oil producer, Yukos collapsed after claims of tax evasion, which led to the company being broken up and sold off to meet debts. The bulk of its assets were subsequently bought by government-controlled oil company Rosneft.

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