Widow Puts Blame on Khodorkovsky

The widow of slain Neftyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov has testified in court that jailed Yukos ex-CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was behind the 1998 murder of her husband.

"I can think of no one else but Khodorkovsky who could have done it," Fatima Islamova said Wednesday. "There was no one else."

This is the second time that witnesses in the murder trial of former Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin have implicated Khodorkovsky in killings Nevzlin is accused of ordering, prompting speculation that the authorities could soon push for an indictment against Khodorkovsky.

Petukhov was shot to death on June 26, 1998, while on his way to work. Islamova, who has remarried since Petukhov's death, claimed that he was murdered because of a bitter dispute with Yukos management over unpaid taxes and layoffs in the Western Siberian town.

The accusation comes one week after Yevgeny Rybin, the director of Vienna-based East Petroleum Handelsgas, told the court he believed Khodorkovsky had a hand in the two attempts on his life.

Nevzlin, who fled to Israel in 2003, is currently on trial in absentia in a Moscow city court on multiple murder charges dating back to the late 1990s. He has dismissed the charges as baseless and politically motivated.

Alexei Pichugin, Yukos' former security chief, has already been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Petukhov's murder.

A spokesman for GML, formerly Group Menatep, in London, Yukos' largest shareholder and the successor of the company founded by Khodorkovsky, declined to comment on the case.

One of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, Robert Amsterdam, said he couldn't rule out the possibility of murder charges but declined to comment further on the issue.

He lambasted the Nevzlin trial as a farce, and accused the Prosecutor General's Office of "crimes against humanity."

"It's not a trial," he said by telephone from Canada. "I refuse to play the game of people who fabricate evidence, fabricate charges, torture and murder innocent people who won't conform to their agenda."

The Prosecutor General's Office could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Khodorkovsky, formerly the country's richest man, is currently serving an eight-year sentence in a Chita prison for tax evasion and fraud.

A spokesman for Nevzlin in Israel, Eric Wolf, said he always felt that the charges against his client had been framed in such a way as to allow for the prosecution of other Yukos executives, Khodorkovsky included.

Wolf compared any possible charges against Khodorkovsky to those against Nevzlin, saying they were politically motivated and baseless.

"If they accuse Khodorkovsky of [murder] tomorrow, it won't be because they think he committed any crime, it's that they've received orders from the government that it's on their political agenda to charge him."