Russian court finds Khodorkovsky's partner guilty of murder

Other News Materials 1 August 2008 20:36 (UTC +04:00)

A Russian court found the Israel-based partner of jailed Yukos billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty in absentia Friday of organizing several contract killings - charges the defence had rejected as absurd, reported dpa.

A Moscow city judge said Leonid Nevzlin had organised the murders of four business rivals and officials.

"The court has established that the accused, Nevzlin, organized the execution a number of extremely serious crimes," Judge Valery Novikov read from the verdict, advising "a lifelong sentence in a high-security prison."

Nevzlin, one of the top managers in now defunct oil giant Yukos, fled to Israel after Khodorkovsky's arrest by Russian authorities in 2003.

Israel has refused to extradite Nevzlin, who along with Khodorkovsky has accused the Kremlin of fabricating the charges to take control of the Yukos empire. The oil firm was bankrupt and sold in an auction forced by the state as a result of massive back-tax claims.

"The defence views this process as unjust from its very beginning. The verdict is illegal and unreasonable," lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov protested in defence of his client.

Nevzlin's lawyers said they would appeal the case with the European Court of Human Rights.

Nevzlin was accused in the Moscow court of contracting the former head of Yukos' security Alexei Pichugin, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison in 2006, to carry out the grisly murders committed during Russia's years of gangster capitalism in the early 1990s.

Critics have charged the Yukos case was politically orchestrated by former president Vladimir Putin to sideline a political opponent in Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia's richest man, and to absorb back into state hands the energy company's mighty assets.

As a result of the Yukos auction state-owned Rosneft, run by Putin's deputy prime minister Igor Sechin, has grown to be one of Russia's largest oil firms.

Khodorkovsky filed for a parole hearing last week, having served over half of his eight-year jail term for charges of large scale tax evasion.