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A decision on granting conditional release for imprisoned Yukos founder Mikhail
A decision on granting conditional release for imprisoned Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky could be reached within a month, a judge at a court in Chita, East Siberia, said on Thursday.

Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Yury Shmidt, announced on Wednesday that an appeal requesting the former oligarch's early release had been filed.

"There is no timeframe fixed for this, but it is common practice that such appeals are considered within a month," Igor Falileyev said.

Last week Russian prosecutors filed new charges of money laundering and oil theft against Khodorkovsky, who headed what was once the country's largest oil company, and his business partner Platon Lebedev. Both men are currently serving eight-year jail terms for fraud and tax evasion.

The Zavtra socialist newspaper earlier cited 'informed sources' as saying a deal had been reached under which Khodorkovsky would be released in October.

On Thursday, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service said that Khodorkovsky's release could only be sanctioned by a court. He refused to comment on a possible date.

"Khodorkovsky can only be released by a court resolution, there is no other way," a spokesman for the service said.

In December 2006 Lebedev, 41, and Khodorkovsky, 45, were transferred from a prison to a pre-trial detention center pending a further investigation into allegations that between 1998 and 2004 they were involved in the theft of 350 million metric tons of oil and the laundering of $28.3 billion.

Pre-trial custody for both men, which was due to end on August 2, has been extended until November 2, 2008.

Both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have maintained their innocence throughout, with Khodorkovsky claiming his conviction was political and a retaliation for his support for Russia's opposition movement.

The jailing of Lebedev and Khodorkovsky has been widely criticized in the West and seen as part of the Kremlin's drive to regain control over lucrative oil and gas assets.


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