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Khodorkovsky could be freed in 2009 - paper

MOSCOW, June 24 (RIA Novosti) - The jailed founder of the now bankrupt oil firm Yukos could be freed next year if Russia's parliament approves a bill to review sentencing as part of a move to cut the prison population, a Russian daily said Tuesday.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky could be set free along with 50,000 inmates in Russia if the State Duma approves a senior lawmaker's proposal to consider a day on remand, or pretrial custody, to equal to 1.5 or 2 days imprisonment, Vedomosti reported.

The sponsor of the legislative amendments, Pavel Krasheninnikov, who heads the lower house's civil, criminal and administrative law committee, told the paper the move would be tantamount to a large-scale amnesty. Under the 2006 amnesty, 14,000 inmates were freed.

Those convicted for serious crimes will not be included in the new sentencing program, according to the paper.

The initiative was put forward by the state penitentiary service, which is trying to reduce the prison population by releasing inmates convicted of minor offences, the daily said. Russia's prison population stood at 894,400 as of June 1.

Khodorkovsky's eight-year term for tax evasion and fraud, which he has been serving in a Siberian prison since 2005, could expire next year if the amendments are passed and the businessman is cleared of new charges, Vedomosti said.

The former oil tycoon's press service said he spent 3.5 years on remand prior to trial.

Authorities recently opened a probe into a second set of charges - which include stealing government shares, illegal oil trade, and money laundering - against the former oil tycoon and his business partner Platon Lebedev, also in prison on similar charges. The investigation is due to be completed on August 2.

Both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have maintained their innocence of all the charges. Khodorkovsky said his imprisonment was a direct result of his support for Russia's tiny pro-Western opposition.

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