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Key Yukos Witness Found in Hospital

A key witness in a money-laundering investigation into Yukos oil company was being kept under armed guard in a Moscow hospital Saturday with visible bruises on his face.

The whereabouts of Antonio Valdes Garcia, the former director of Yukos trading company Fargoil, were not known until Friday, when Interfax reported that he had been admitted to a hospital in August after sustaining head injuries, a concussion and multiple leg fractures.

Valdes Garcia, a dual Russian-Spanish citizen, was last reported to have been detained at a Moscow airport on June 10.

After his detention, former associates said that Valdes Garcia was voluntarily returning to Moscow to give evidence to prosecutors in a money-laundering investigation into Yukos. He believed he would gain protection in return for cooperation, the associates said.

Prosecutors have said they are preparing a second criminal case against Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving a nine-year prison sentence after being convicted of tax evasion and fraud in a highly politicized trial. Prosecutors allege that Fargoil was part of a scheme to launder $10 billion in oil revenues.

The cause of Valdes Garcia's injuries was unclear. While a source told Interfax that all his teeth had been knocked out, it was impossible to determine the extent of his injuries during a brief visit to room 301 in the orthopedic ward of the Russian Academy of Sciences Hospital in southern Moscow.

Valdes Garcia, who is in his early 30s but appeared younger, was drawn, pale and disoriented when a reporter entered his room after receiving directions from a hospital warden during visiting hours.

A thickly built guard who wore a pistol on a holster belt said that his charge would not be giving any interviews. Valdes Garcia pulled a corner of his bed sheets over a badly bruised eye, but no other injuries were visible.

Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, the guard refused to give his name or say who his employer was. He claimed to be a male nurse, medbrat, and later just brat, or brother. The guard refused to answer any more questions and escorted the reporter out of the hospital.

A spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office declined to comment Friday.

Two sources familiar with the situation, who requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said Valdes Garcia had been put into a witness protection program after his arrival in Russia in June. One of the sources said the witness protection program was being run by the Federal Security Service.

The other source confirmed the Interfax report that Valdes Garcia had been admitted to the hospital about three weeks ago.

Interfax reported that he had first been admitted to a hospital in Istra, a town northwest of Moscow. The news agency reported that the hospital had confirmed he had been in the trauma ward from Aug. 7 to Aug. 19 before being transferred to Moscow.

A nurse at the Russian Academy of Sciences Hospital in Moscow said by telephone on Friday that Valdes Garcia had been admitted on Aug. 7.

Some time after his detention, Valdes Garcia's lawyers lost contact with him, the second source said, and when the authorities finally informed the lawyers that he was in the hospital, they said his injuries had been sustained when he fell out of a window trying to escape the detention center.

"When they found him in hospital, he had a fractured skull, a concussion, and it looked like his face had been severely pummeled. It didn't look like he'd just fallen out of a window," the source said.

"As far as I understand, he was in a special unit for people under state witness protection. But I don't think it's anything like the houses you are provided with in Arkansas or something in the States. He has been kept in solitary confinement and it seems he was regularly watched."

Lawyers for Valdes Garcia could not be located over the weekend.

The Spanish Embassy on Sunday said it had been unable to locate him.

Miguel Ortiz, the diplomat in charge of the case, said the embassy had last inquired into Valdes Garcia's well-being after his June arrest. Prosecutors told him the embassy had no say over Valdes Garcia because he had entered the country on his Russian passport, Ortiz said.

"He crossed the border as a Russian citizen, and that means there's little we can do," he said. "If he received these injuries while in detention, that's another matter. ... We will do everything we can for him."

It was unclear on Sunday whether Valdes Garcia was still in the Russian Academy of Sciences Hospital.

When asked about his condition, a nurse in the orthopedic ward on Sunday said that hospital records showed that Valdes Garcia had been discharged on Friday evening and that his records had been archived and were unavailable.

(The Moscow Times 05.ix.05)

 
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