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Court Keeps Khodorkovsky in Jail until May

Mikhail Khodorkovsky remained in jail after losing a court bid for freedom Friday before a trial for tax evasion and fraud, a case widely seen as embodying the Kremlin's fight to keep big business under its thumb. The Basmanny district court ordered the former chief executive of Yukos to remain in jail pending trial until May 25.

"We knew the decision before we came. This is an absolute farce," Robert Amsterdam, one of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, said after the ruling was handed down. "The court isn't even trying to hide that this is a political case."

Friday's hearing, which lasted more than seven hours, was the latest of several attempts by defense lawyers to secure the release on bail of the politically ambitious oil magnate. In prison five months since his arrest at gunpoint, Khodorkovsky looked healthy but pale in the cramped courtroom where he spoke confidently but without any hint of confrontation.

Earlier court rulings had upheld prosecutors' requests to keep him in detention through the presidential election on March 14 -- won easily by President Vladimir Putin.

In court, a smiling Khodorkovsky in blue jeans and a green sweater responded to questions with polite, short answers. During a break, a journalist asked him why he was smiling.

"Things will be bad if I start crying," he said. "But things are good while I smile."

Speaking to his lawyer in English, he said: "Perhaps after this trial we will have more open court hearings in Russia."

Putin has not commented on the Yukos case since his re-election, and Kremlin officials have shown no signs that their stance has softened.

The Prosecutor General's Office says it sees no chance of an out-of-court settlement, but his lawyers may need a year or more to study his case. Khodorkovsky faces up to 10 years in jail.

(The Moscow Times 22.iii.04)

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