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18 Mar, 2009 01:42

New trial dawns on Khodorkovsky

One of Russia's most famous prisoners Mikhail Khodorkovsky will face a second trial, after a Moscow court refused to dismiss a new charge against him.

The former oil tycoon is serving an eight-year term for fraud and tax evasion, but the latest multi-billion dollar embezzlement case may add 22 more years to his sentence.

“A tough sentence for a thief!” were shouting the protesters outside the court in which Khodorkovsky’s trial took place.

“He robbed this country, he bribed politicians. Claims that he’s a victim of political pressure are just a publicity campaign paid for by the money he stole from us,” one of them told RT.

“He’s committed a lot of crimes, many of which were proven and he should pay for them,” echoed another.

And, as though in accordance to this sentiment, the former tycoon is back in court. Although Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev are already serving an 8-year term each for fraud and tax evasion, they now face fresh charges that could see them spend another 20 years in prison.

At the pre-trial hearings the defense team filed numerous complaints. The court rejected them all.

“The trial will start on the 31st of March and will be open. The court rejected petitions filed by defense lawyers, but granted the request by the prosecution to keep both defendants in custody,” said Anna Usachyova, the court’s spokeswoman.

The lawyers claimed the new charges of embezzlement and money laundering repeat those made in the original trial in 2005.

They also demanded the return of the case to the Prosecutor General’s Office because the defense witnesses, Russia’s Finance Minister among them, were not included in the list of those expected to testify. And they still maintain the prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to support their case.

“The new charges are judicially, factually and even logically absurd. Nothing adds up. Things like that just can’t be done, let alone proven,” Khodorkovsky’s defense lawyer, Vadim Klugvant noted.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003. His company Yukos went bankrupt, hit with a multibillion dollar tax bill. Last year the company’s former top manager Leonid Nevzlin, who now lives in Israel, was sentenced to life in prison for organizing the murders of several people who stood in the way of the oil giant’s interests.

Another former employee Aleksey Pichugin is now serving a life term for the same charges. Among the victims – the mayor of a Siberian oil town who wanted Yukos to pay taxes which he said it concealed and a businesswoman refusing to sell Moscow office space to a Yukos-related bank. To this day, the Yukos saga looks far from over.

A new trial against Khodorkovsky has now got the go-ahead. And while his lawyers claim they expected the outcome, those who protested outside the court building say the former tycoon deserves more time behind bars.