Arguments began March 3 in the new trial of former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a Moscow courtroom. Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev are facing new charges of embezzling and laundering nearly $20 billion during their tenures at the Russian energy firm OAO Yukos Oil Co. During the proceedings, the Moscow court rejected a request by Khodorkovsky’s lawyers to remove two Russian state prosecutors who were involved in his 2005 trial for fraud and tax evasion. The court also rejected a defense request to move Khodorkovsky from the glass and steel enclosure where defendants are normally kept, which many Russian lawyers believe violates international law. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers have said that they believe his trial will last for more than six months.
Critics have claimed that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated due to Khodorkovsky’s opposition of former Russian president Vladimir Putin. The transfer of the two from prison to Moscow to stand trial on the new charges was ordered two weeks ago by a judge for the District Court in Moscow. Khodorkovsky is currently serving an eight-year sentence for his 2005 conviction on the fraud and tax evasion charges, although he maintains his innocence. He requested early release last July, but his application was rejected in August because he disobeyed guards at the Krasnokamensk penal colony, refused to participate in a training program, and faced the possibility of additional charges. Khodorkovsky has appealed that decision. (Jurist, March 4)