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Khodorkovsky Arrested On 7 Charges

Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed Saturday night after security agents stormed aboard his plane during a refueling stop in Novosibirsk and hauled him back to Moscow, where a court sanctioned his arrest on charges of massive theft and tax evasion. In arresting Russia's richest man, the Kremlin moved to the endgame in a politically charged battle to check the increasingly powerful oil magnate. In what they said was an "unprecedented" case for the sheer scale of the alleged fraud and investigation work involved, prosecutors issued seven charges against Khodorkovsky, including personal income tax evasion, overseeing corporate tax evasion, falsifying documents and theft.

In all, Khodorkovsky and his associates cost the state more than $1 billion in lost revenues, Prosecutor General's Office spokeswoman Natalya Vishnyakova said on Rossia television. Later, she was quoted by Interfax as saying the charges could be broadened to include other crimes, which she did not specify. Analysts and investors speculated Sunday that Khodorkovsky's arrest could be used to squeeze him into giving up control over Yukos, an oil major now worth $14.2 billon that he won for just over $200 million in a rigged auction in 1995.

His jailing in the overcrowded Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow capped nearly four months of mounting pressure that began with the July 2 arrest of fellow core Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev. In the weeks and months that followed, prosecutors tightened the noose, launching a series of raids on Yukos-affiliated companies and pressing charges of tax evasion against another Yukos billionaire, Vasily Shakhnovsky. A Yukos security chief was also jailed, on charges of murder and attempted murder. Yukos denies all the charges.

Businessmen and analysts have seen the escalating attack as aimed at crushing Khodorkovsky's attempts to undermine President Vladimir Putin's power base ahead of elections. He has been openly financing opposition parties in a bid to lock in his own loyal faction and has tried to challenge the state's monopoly hold on strategically important pipelines.

Khodorkovsky was brought back to Moscow from a business trip to the regions. His chartered plane had landed at a Novosibirsk airport for refueling while en route to Irkutsk at 5 a.m. local time when it was surrounded by vehicles with their headlights on.

About 20 black-uniformed agents broke into the first-class compartment where Khodorkovsky and his entourage of aides and bodyguards were, brandishing weapons and shouting "FSB! Put your weapons on the ground, don't move or we'll shoot!" said Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin, citing people who were with Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky was flown back to Moscow, where he was questioned by prosecutors before being charged. He was then sent to Moscow's Basmanny court, where after just over four hours a judge approved prosecutors' request that he be held until trial. Khodorkovsky's lawyer Anton Drel said he could be in jail until at least Dec. 30.

(The Moscow Times 27.x.03)

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