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Lebedev Blasts the Prosecution

Platon Lebedev, one of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's closest business partners, gave testimony for the first time in his eight-month trial Monday, avowing his innocence and slamming the prosecution for sloppy work.

Lebedev, the former president of Bank Menatep, has been in custody since July 2003. He has since been charged with embezzling state property, tax evasion and large-scale fraud. He is standing trial in Meshchansky district court together with Yukos founder Khodorkovsky, who testified on Friday.

"The claims and deductions of the prosecution are contrary to the facts. They are not based on the Constitution, the laws of the land, on the evidence or facts and in many cases are simply artificial," Lebedev said, speaking from the defendants' cage he shares with Khodorkovsky.

The case against the two men centers around their role in the 1994 privatization of the Apatit fertilizer plant. The prosecution claims they defrauded the state by setting up four front companies in the auction for 20 percent of Apatit and later failed to invest the funds they promised.

Lebedev said the charges against him were "slanderous" and based on "deliberate lies" and "absurd contradictions."

Strange phrasing and the lack of any logic made the case incomprehensible to him, he said.

The trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, two former executives of what was once one of the country's leading industrial groups, is widely seen as part of a highly politicized struggle between the Kremlin and Menatep, Yukos' parent company. The oil company has been all but dismembered after crippling tax bills of $28 billion led to the auctioning off of its key production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, in December.

Since the beginning of the trial, Lebedev's lawyers have claimed that he is suffering from cirrhosis of the liver or cancer.

Lebedev drifted into rambling and sometimes sarcastic explanations on how banks were run and what the political and economic conditions of the early 1990s had been like. He also provided an in-depth account of his career and education.

Lebedev gave testimony following Khodorkovsky, who likewise refuted all the charges and slammed the prosecution for inventing the charges.

Dmitry Zimin, the respected founder of No. 2 mobile provider VimpelCom, was among the observers in the gallery who exchanged smiles with Khodorkovsky on Monday.

"I came to look Misha Khodorkovsky in the eyes and show my sympathy for him," said Zimin, who has publicly criticized the legal assault on Yukos. "My position has been published and my position hasn't changed."

In an interview published Monday, a Khodorkovsky lawyer said he feared for the life of his client.

"There are things which give me cause for concern about his health and even his life," Yury Shmidt, a member of Khodorkovsky's defense team, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. When asked what he meant, Shmidt declined to elaborate, the paper said.

(The Moscow Times 01.iii.05)

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