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22 Jun, 2010 09:31

Industry and Trade Minister was unaware of Yukos embezzlement

Russia's Minister of Industry and Trade, Viktor Khristenko, has testified for the defense in the trial of former oil tycoon and ex-head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

He added that, as first deputy finance minister and then deputy prime minister in the early 2000s, he was unaware of the embezzlement of 350 million tons of oil, which forms the basis of the second case against Khodorkovsky. In the first case he was found guilty of fraud and tax evasion and is currently serving an eight-year sentence.

Khristenko noted that no such cases were reported to him, and added that oil producer, Yukos, sold oil to transfer companies and if it was stolen after this, the responsibility rested with the intermediaries.

“Physical stealing of oil from the pipeline is a problem that has always existed. But embezzlement equivalent to millions of tons is not known to me,” Khristenko said.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is defending himself in the trial, and some of Khristenko’s answers to the defendant’s questions were evasive, Interfax notes.

When asked by journalists about the hearing’s proceedings he “is not familiar with the case files and can’t say what questions refer to it. It is up to the court to decide,” the agency quotes him as saying.

On Monday, another high-profile witness testified in the Khodorkovsky case. Current Sberbank chief executive and former trade minister, German Gref,  also said no embezzlement was reported to them at the time.