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Pichugin Faces New Murder Charges

Prosecutors have filed new murder charges against Alexei Pichugin, less than two weeks after the former Yukos security official was sent to jail for 20 years after being found guilty of organizing a double murder and conspiring to murder.

The Prosecutor General's Office on Thursday said it had charged Pichugin with the 1998 murder of Valentina Korneyeva, a woman identified as the director of Feniks Trading Firm, and with two attempts on the life of Yevgeny Rybin, managing director of Austrian company East Petroleum Handelsgas, in 1998 and 1999.

Korneyeva was murdered after she refused to sell a building in central Moscow to Bank Menatep, Natalia Veshnyakova, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office, said in televised remarks.

Veshnyakova said Pichugin was acting on orders of Leonid Nevzlin, a core shareholder of Menatep, Yukos' main owner. Nevzlin, who is living in self-exile in Israel, has already been charged with ordering the hits on Rybin, as well as a double murder.

A number of people were involved in the plot against Korneyeva, including Sergei Gorin, Veshnyakova said. The 2002 double murder of Gorin and his wife, Olga, was the key charge that led to Pichugin's conviction last month.

Veshnyakova said each of the participants in the murder received $5,000 and one of them, identified as Vladimir Shapiro, also was awarded an SUV.

Ksenia Kostromina, Pichugin's lawyer, said she could not comment on the charges, as the defense team had to sign a pledge not to disclose any information before the charges were officially presented to Pichugin.

Kostromina said that Pichugin did not accept any guilt on the new charges.

Pichugin, 42, was the first Yukos employee to receive a jail sentence in the state's legal onslaught against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his oil empire.

Last month Pichugin was found guilty of organizing the murder of the Gorins and of ordering assassination attempts on Olga Kostina, a former adviser to Khodorkovsky, and on Viktor Kolesov, a senior official at Rosprom, the Menatep-controlled predecessor of Yukos-Moskva.

By law the defense can only bring up technical violations conducted during the trial. Kostromina said the appeal had been filed.

(The Moscow Times 15.iv.05)

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