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Khodorkovsky urges greater role for juries in Russian trials

MOSCOW, March 27 (RIA Novosti) - Jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said jury trials should be more widespread and play a greater role in Russia, where suspects pleading not guilty are virtually guaranteed a conviction and harsher sentence.

Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev are facing a new criminal trial on new embezzlement and money laundering charges totaling about $50 billion on top of the eight-year sentences they are currently serving. The cases will not be heard before a jury and if found guilty they face up to 21 years in prison.

"A person, who does not admit his guilt during a non-jury trial, is doomed to receive a longer sentence as he faces a guilty verdict all the same, and has little hope for parole," Khodorkovsky said in a statement published on his defense team's website on Friday.

Khodorkovsky also expressed hope that the second trial against him would help change the judiciary system's attitude to suspects and trigger changes in society as a whole.

Earlier reports said Khodorkovsky would defend himself more proactively during the new trial due to start on March 31.

The defense team, which has called the new charges "shameful" and totally unsubstantiated, has appealed against a Moscow district court's refusal to drop the indictments against their clients, Yelena Liptser, a lawyer acting for Lebedev, said on Friday.

A Moscow court rejected during preliminary hearings earlier this month the defense lawyers' request to dismiss the case and their request to refer the case file for further investigation. Their demands to dismiss the presiding judge and prosecutors in the case were also turned down.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who have pleaded innocent on both sets of charges, are now in a Moscow detention center after being transferred from a Siberian prison, where they have been serving sentences on fraud and tax evasion charges, which critics say were orchestrated by the Kremlin, since 2006.

The defense said a fair verdict was unlikely and vowed to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if their clients were convicted again.

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