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1 Aug, 2008 14:04

Former Yukos director given life for murders

Former Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin has been sentenced in absentia to life in prison for his role in organising murders and attempted murders. Nevzlin is likely to be jailed only if he ever returns to Russia, though the prosecutors said he could serve h

The judge at Moscow’s City Court, Valery Novikov, said: “The term of the penalty should start from the moment of his detention”. He is also obliged to pay $US 250,000 in damages.

Nevzlin was found guilty of being involved in the deaths of the mayor of Nefteyugansk Vasiliy Petukhov, a bodyguard and a Moscow businesswoman, Valentina Korneyeva.

The court found all three were killed because they got in the way of the oil giant.

Petukhov was gunned down for allegedly demanding the oil giant stopped its practice of tax fraud.

Faida Islamova, Petukhov’s widow, said: “It was very hard for me to be at the trial. It's been going on for more than 10 years. Khodorkovsky and his former co-workers are all criminals. Not only in terms of tax evasion but murder as well. They didn't pay salaries to workers, people were starving. For years they did anything they wanted in our region.”

Other charges put against Nevzlin are embezzling more than $US 100 million and tax evasion.

Nevzlin, who was tried in absentia, has denied all the charges. He fled to Israel in 2003. The country refused to extradite him to Russia, demanding more evidence.

Nevzlin’s lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov said his side is going to appeal against the verdict at the Supreme Court.

Another former Yukos employee, head of security Alexey Pichugin, is already serving life in prison for the same charges.

The fall of Yukos and the arrest of its CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his top managers is one of the most notorious cases in modern Russian history.

Many in the West say the case has been politicised and openly call Khodorkovsky and his colleagues political prisoners.