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14 Jul, 2008 17:15

Yukos director wanted for plotting murder

Although the oil giant Yukos was declared bankrupt two years ago, the investigation into its former owners continues. Leonid Nevzlin is accused not only of financial irregularities, but is wanted in connection with a dozen murder attempts.

Once the largest and wealthiest petroleum company in Russia, Yukos is now little more than a memory. The company is bankrupt and its founder and CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is in prison for fraud and tax evasion along with his closest allies – except one.

Former shareholder Leonid Nevzlin fled Russia as the case against Yukos began to gain momemtum, and was granted Israeli citizenship. He's been in self-induced exile ever since.  Numerous extradition requests have been denied by Israel.

Nevzlin has been put on trial in Moscow in absentia.  His lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov insists the case against his client is fabricated from beginning to end.

“I have never seen such a farcical hearing in my entire career. The court refused us witnesses, they didn’t produce a single bit of evidence – it is all a bunch of groundless accusations,” Kharitonov said.

Nonetheless, the Yukos case is the most notorious in recent Russian history.

Western media say it’s politically motivated, while Russian prosecutors describe it as 'purely criminal'. But the complex nature of the case is often overlooked.

It's not only about a power struggle or economic fraud. Prosecutors say they have disturbing information linking Yukos' top managers to several murders.  These include the deaths of the mayor of Nefteyugansk, an oil-rich town in Siberia, the killing of a bodyguard, and the murder of a Moscow businesswoman.

It’s claimed that all three were killed because they got in the way of the oil giant.  Several attempted murders have also been linked to Yukos’ senior management. 

An alleged victim of a Yukos attack, Olga Kostina, said the chaos of the 90s created a culture of violence.

“Khodorkovsky created a machine. And I'm not just singling him out – it's pretty clear that it was the general chaos of the 1990s. But he let the killing machine get out of hand. It's got nothing to do with politics, or anything like that – it was simply a group of men, led by Pichugin and Nevzlin, who felt they were invincible,” Kostina said.

Last year the former head of the Yukos security service, Aleksey Pichugin, was sentenced to life imprisonment for organising several killings and other attempted murders.

Meanwhile, Nevzlin is accused of being involved in nearly a dozen murder attempts.

“There is evidence that Nevziln lied, that he produced false witnesses but the court cannot release that information before the trial is complete,” Olga Kostina says.

For the time being, Leonid Nevzlin remains in Israel.