Pichugin Denies Murder Accusations

Itar-TassPichugin being escorted Wednesday in Moscow City Court, where he denied Nevzlin ordered him to carry out killings.
Former Yukos security chief Alexei Pichugin denied in court Wednesday that he had ever received orders to commit murder from billionaire exile and Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin.

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

Nevzlin's lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov confirmed Pichugin's testimony Wednesday that his client had never ordered any murders.

Pichugin also repeated claims made through his lawyers in 2004 that he was given psychotropic drugs while being interrogated by Federal Security Service agents in 2003, Kharitonov said.

Pichugin told the court that on June 14, 2003, investigators gave him a cup of coffee to drink, after which he began to feel strange and subsequently lost consciousness, Interfax reported. It appears to be the first time that Pichugin has spoken about the incident in public.

"For six hours after that I lost control over my senses," Pichugin said, Interfax reported. "My cellmate … later told me how I had arrived back in our cell."

While the effects of the alleged drug lasted for approximately six hours, Pichugin claimed that they had long-term effects on his health. "The next day I had a visit with my mother and my wife, and they could see my condition," he said, Interfax reported. "Over the next three months I lost 31 kilograms and developed lumps on my head, which you can still see very well today."

Pichugin was convicted in two separate trials of organizing the 1998 killings of Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov and Moscow businesswoman Valentina Korneyeva, as well as organizing an attempt on the life of Yevgeny Rybin, the director of Vienna-based East Petroleum Handelsgas. He is currently serving a life sentence.

A human rights expert who is familiar with the case but could not speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that the use of psychotropic drugs during interrogations violated Russia's treaty obligations and international law.

"It falls somewhere between Nuremburg and Abu Ghraib," the source said, referring to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers.

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service declined to comment on Pichugin's claim Wednesday.