Nevzlin Goes on Trial in Absentia for Murder

BloombergNevzlin playing with his dog Max at his home in Herzlya, Israel, in June 2005.
The murder trial in absentia of former Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin began in Moscow on Wednesday, prompting complaints by defense lawyers that they were given inadequate time to prepare their case.

Nevzlin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky's former lieutenant at Yukos who fled to Israel in 2003, faces 11 charges, including murder and attempted murder, following a four-year investigation led by the Prosecutor General's Office.

Nevzlin, who currently resides in Israel, has denied all the charges, claiming they are politically motivated.

Prosecutor Alexander Kublyakov outlined the charges against Nevzlin in the opening hearing at the Moscow City Court on Wednesday.

But Nevzlin's lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov told the court that his team could not respond to the charges, as it had not been given enough time to study the allegations against his client, a court spokeswoman said.

"The defense was given 7 1/2 days to read 19,500 pages," Eric Wolf, an Israel-based spokesman for Nevzlin, said by telephone. "The prosecution has done everything that it could to prevent Nevzlin's lawyers from participating in this trial."

The court on Wednesday refused an earlier request by the defense for a two-month postponement to give it more time to prepare.

Repeated calls to Kharitonov's cell phone went unanswered Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office declined to comment on ongoing court proceedings.

Nevzlin is charged with ordering the killing of several business executives and officials from 1998 to 2004, and his trial is closely linked to that of Alexei Pichugin, the oil firm's former security chief, who was jailed for life last August on charges of involvement in the same murders.

According to the charges, Nevzlin is accused of being behind the killing of Valentina Korneyeva, a Moscow businesswoman, and Vladimir Petukhov, the mayor of Nefteyugansk.

In December, the prosecutor's office said it was also investigating a possible connection of Yukos executives, including Nevzlin, to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian security service agent who was killed by radiation poisoning in London. Weeks before his death, Litvinenko had met with Nevzlin in Israel.

Britain has accused former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi of murdering Litvinenko and called for his extradition, a demand that prompted a chill in the countries' diplomatic relations.

Yukos, formerly the country's biggest oil company, was forced into bankruptcy in 2006 by a slew of what many viewed as politically motivated multibillion-dollar back tax charges.

Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, another former Yukos shareholder, are currently serving jail sentences of eight years on tax and fraud charges.

Wolf said Wednesday that Nevzlin would not receive a fair trial in Russia. "This is a show trial. It is an abuse of the legal system," he said. "I think [the Russian authorities] will rush the trial, and convict him quickly. That's what they do. Not a single person in the Yukos case has been acquitted."

Dozens of the company's managers fled abroad amid the fallout of the affair. Britain has rejected Russian requests to extradite several Yukos executives, including Alexander Temerko, a former senior vice president.

Russia has repeatedly called for Nevzlin's extradition from Israel and has placed him on an Interpol wanted list. Israel has turned down the requests, citing a lack of evidence.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Moscow declined to comment on the case. Edi Shafira, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the issues involved.

Israel's High Court of Justice, which considers cases brought by the country's citizens against its government, is due to rule soon on a complaint that Nevzlin had obtained Israeli citizenship illegally.

The complaint, filed in 2006 by Russian-born Israeli journalist Yuly Nudelman, asserts that Nevzlin failed to inform the Israeli government that he was under criminal investigation in Russia at the time of his application in 2003, and was, therefore, ineligible for citizenship.

Wolf denies the allegation and says Nudelman filed the charges on behalf of the Russian government as part of prosecutors' efforts to have Nevzlin extradited to Russia.

Nudelman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The High Court, composed of a panel of Supreme Court judges, heard arguments on the matter on March 10, two years after they were filed.

The Moscow City Court began preliminary hearings in Nevzlin's trial on March 4.

The trial continues Thursday.