Nevzlin Prosecutors Want Life Sentence

bloombergNevzlin sitting with his collection of ivory dolls last month in Herzlya, Israel.
Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded life imprisonment for former Yukos co-owner Leonid Nevzlin, who is being tried in absentia on multiple murder charges dating back to the late 1990s.

Nevzlin, 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.

Prosecutor Alexander Koblyakov asked the Moscow City Court on Wednesday to convict the self-exiled businessman and sentence him to life in prison, Interfax reported.

Nevzlin's lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, declined to comment when reached Wednesday. Nevzlin's defense is to address the court Thursday, Interfax said.

Nevzlin has dismissed the charges as baseless and politically motivated. His Israel-based spokesman, Eric Wolf, described the trial as "one monstrous breach of human rights."

"The case is fabricated and a clear-cut example of political persecution," Wolf said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

In May, Israel's Supreme Court of Justice upheld Nevzlin's citizenship and ruled that the Russian charges are groundless, according to a copy of the ruling obtained by The Moscow Times.

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.

Yukos, once the country's biggest oil company, was forced into bankruptcy in 2006 by back tax charges that many say were politically motivated.

Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, are currently serving prison sentences of eight years on tax and fraud charges.

"Mr. Nevzlin is a former shareholder of Yukos, which faced political persecution from [former President Vladimir] Putin's regime," Wolf said. "Nothing has changed in Russia since. The courts are still rubber-stamping the decisions from the Kremlin. The verdict has been written already."

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the Yukos case was politically motivated and said it is the job of prosecutors to determine whether any crimes were committed.

Khodorkovsky's London-based lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, said that even if Nevzlin is convicted, it is unlikely he would ever serve any time in prison.

"Trials in absentia are notoriously the weakest in terms of compliance with rule of law," Amsterdam said. "This one is no exception. There would be too many violations of due process and equality of arms for anyone to count."