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Court Backs Aleksanyan's Arrest

A Moscow court on Friday sanctioned the arrest of Yukos' executive vice president, a day after he was charged with embezzlement and money laundering.

Vasily Aleksanyan's arrest is the latest in a string of legal assaults against the embattled oil company, once Russia's largest.

Aleksanyan said he would appeal the decision by Moscow's Basmanny District Court and would begin a hunger strike. "From today, I am on hunger strike, and will only drink water until my release," RIA-Novosti reported Aleksanyan as saying on Friday.

Aleksanyan was detained by the Prosecutor General's Office on Thursday, just days after his appointment as Yukos vice president. He was charged with stealing 8 billion rubles ($290.3 million) in property and 3.6 billion rubles in shares belonging to companies tied to Eastern Oil Company.

Aleksanyan, who had previously served as chief of Yukos' legal department and as the company's most senior Moscow-based official, was to be in charge of finding ways to save the embattled oil firm from bankruptcy.

In a statement Friday, Yukos called Aleksanyan's arrest a "brutal and unjust attack on the company's attempts to secure a fair bankruptcy process."

"We can only assume that this action ... is a direct result of his accepting a position to work to protect Yukos Oil Company and its legitimate stakeholders," it said.

At the end of March, Yukos was placed under observation by an external manager -- the first step in the bankruptcy case backed by state-owned oil major Rosneft. Bankruptcy hearings are due to start on June 27 and are expected to lead to the dismantling of the company.

In an interview with Kommersant, conducted in early April and published Friday, Aleksanyan said in recent months he had been frequently called in for questioning at the Prosecutor General's Office.

"During the questioning on March 22, a [woman] investigator told me that I should stay away from this company," Aleksanyan told the daily.

Aleksanyan said he had been followed by agents in four cars constantly since about the end of March. "By now, I recognize those cars," he said.

Aleksanyan told Kommersant that the charges against him were based on the testimony of another senior Yukos official, Svetlana Bakhmina.

Bakhmina, former deputy chief of Yukos' legal department, was arrested in 2004 on embezzlement charges similar to those facing Aleksanyan. Prosecutors have asked for Bakhmina to be sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Yukos has been the target of Kremlin-orchestrated legal onslaught which dates back to mid-2003. Authorities have demanded that Yukos pay $30 billion in back taxes and penalties. The company's founder and former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was last year sentenced to eight months in jail.

(The Moscow Times 10.iv.06)

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