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Russia's baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky stays in jail
A court ordered Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to remain in jail until March 25, rejecting an appeal to move the oil tycoon into house arrest. The Moscow City Court upheld a ruling last month by another court to keep the former head of Yukos oil company in jail for another three months. Khodorkovsky has been in pretrial detention since his Oct. 25 arrest, with prosecutors arguing that if freed he could flee or attempt to influence the outcome of the criminal investigation into his business dealings. Defense lawyer Karinna Moskalenko called the court's ruling "predetermined and prejudiced." She said they planned to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Russia's richest person according to Forbes magazine, Khodorkovsky is facing fraud and tax evasion charges widely seen as part of a Kremlin-backed effort to curb his political clout and avenge his funding of opposition parties. The court's decision means Khodorkovsky will remain in jail beyond the March 14 presidential election, which President Vladimir Putin is expected to win easily. "I believe that my detention in jail is illegal," Khodorkovsky said Thursday, speaking to the court via a closed circuit television from Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina detention center. The businessman told the court that he made no attempts to flee before his Oct. 25 arrest, which came amid a wide-ranging probe into Yukos that had already seen the jailing of another key shareholder. At one point before his arrest, Khodorkovsky even publicly declared that he would face jail rather than become a forced exile. Khodorkovsky resigned as chief executive of Yukos shortly after his arrest, saying he wanted to take the company out of the line of fire. His resignation had little effect, though. A court froze about 40 percent of the company's stakes and the Tax Ministry is pursuing Yukos, claiming it owes 98 billion rubles (US$3.4 billion) in tax arrears. Khodorkovsky's lawyers said that their client is willing to surrender his passport and remain under house arrest if freed. "Under house arrest, it will be all the same except at home, except with his wife and children," said his lawyer, Genrikh Padva. Khodorkovsky noted that "tens of thousands" of people, including Yukos employees, had given financial guarantees that he would remain in Russia. Appearing to almost tear up, he told the court that he couldn't betray those people. Padva added that prosecutors were required by law to prove not that Khodorkovsky could flee but that he would attempt to. Padva also said that the prosecutors had failed to prove their claim that the investigation is continuing so it is necessary to keep Khodorkovsky behind bars, and they hadn't taken into account changes in Russia's criminal code, which call for lighter treatment of suspects accused of economic crimes. Prosecutor Valery Lakhtin answered that by law, authorities would be required to return Khodorkovsky's documents, such as his passport, to him, thus opening up the possibility that he could flee. The prosecutors also dismissed Khodorkovsky's argument that because he is no longer head of Yukos he would not be able to continue to commit any of the alleged crimes he is accused of. The prosecutors argued that Khodorkovsky could still attempt to legalize allegedly criminal profits.
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