Former Yukos employee gets life sentence

Aleksey Pichugin, the former head of the Yukos oil company's security service, has been found guilty of three murders and four attempted murders and has been given a life sentence by Moscow City Court.

He was first sentenced in 2005 to 20 years for killing two people, as well as for an attempted murder.

In 2006, he was found guilty of further killings and attempted murders, and the term was increased to 24 years.

A new trial started in April after the verdict was overturned at the request of the Prosecutor General's Office as it believed the sentence was too lenient.

It took the judge five hours to sum up the evidence. Aleksey Pichugin was found guilty of masterminding three murders and four attempted murders.

“The accused committed particularly grave crimes. As a result many people suffered. Weapons and explosives were used when making attempts on their lives. Taking this into account, the court thinks the accused is an exceptional danger to our society and is sentenced to a lifetime in prison,” commented Pyotr Shtunder, Moscow City Court judge. 

The crimes were committed in the 1990s. The victims, the prosecution says, got in the way of the oil giant’s interests. 

Businesswoman Valentina Korneyeva repeatedly refused to sell office space in central Moscow to Menatep, a Yukos-related bank. She was shot at her doorstep before her husband’s eyes.

Vladimir Petukhov, a mayor of the Siberian oil town of Nefteyugansk, was killed on the birthday of Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky after demanding that Yukos  pay due taxes. 

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Yukos went from an oil giant with global ambitions to bankruptcy after being hit with a multi-million dollar tax bill. Its founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky is serving a nine-year prison sentence for fraud and tax evasion. Some say the campaign against the company was politically motivated. Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, had fallen out with the Kremlin. 

Aleksey Pichugin was also convicted of organising two attacks on businessman Andrey Rybin who was involved in a lawsuit with Yukos. The Prosecution says Mr Pichugin acted on orders from the company’s bosses, in particular Leonid Nevzlin, Yukos former CEO, now living in Israel and wanted in Russia. 

“We are satisfied with the sentence. I think it’s lawful and just. I believe this sentence is the first step before a trial of Leonid Nevzlin. I think this would be an trial in absentia  as he’s now outside Russia. His part in these crimes has been established,” said Kamil Kashaev from Prosecutor General’s Office. 

Mr Pichugin maintained his innocence. Now his lawyers insist he fell a victim to political games. 

“The sentence is unlawful. The proofs were turned upside down. We knew straight away what the sentence would be. They had to prove that Yukos was a gang of murderers,” believes Georgy Kaganer, defence lawyer.

His defence promises to appeal against the latest verdict.