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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Yukos Raid Sniffs Tax Trail

MTYukos lawyer Anton Drel speaking to reporters outside the business center Thursday.
ZHUKOVKA, Moscow Region -- Prosecutors cranked up the pressure on Yukos another notch Thursday with new raids on the oil giant's offices in Moscow and the wealthy suburb of Zhukovka.

The raids came less than a week after investigators searched, among other places, the home of key Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev and the company's business center in Zhukovka and a Yukos-funded children's home. Lebedev has been held on charges of fraud and embezzlement since July.

About two dozen officers were continuing to search the business center, located in a gated compound, late Thursday. Reporters and lawyers were barred from entering.

"The Prosecutor General's Office is conducting searches of the offices of foreign companies controlled by Yukos as part of the criminal investigation into embezzlement and tax evasion," a spokesman told Interfax. He said the raids were prompted by the discovery in last Friday's searches of a document showing "funds acquired through tax evasion where transferred to foreign accounts."

Lebedev's lawyer, Anton Drel, was shut out of his offices in the business center as investigators carried out the raid. "They told me they would let me in after 30 to 40 minutes, but that was five hours ago," Drel said Thursday afternoon.

The business center is owned by Group Menatep, which is headed by Lebedev and controls 61 percent of Yukos. It also houses the offices of core Yukos shareholder and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Dubov, which were raided Friday.

"If my office is searched, I will consider that to be [the investigators'] way of taking out a personal vendetta against me," Drel said. "This will be a precedent-setting event, because nobody in the history of Russia or the Soviet Union has ever searched the office of a lawyer working on a felony case."

Drel was to appeal Lebedev's detention in the Lefortovo jail on Thursday, but he said he failed to file the appeal due to the raid. "They knew I would be at the hearing, that's why they came today, so I wouldn't be in my office," he said. The Basmanny district court rescheduled the hearing for Oct. 15.

On Thursday night, Drel said he had managed to sneak into his office through a back entrance and found about two dozen officials inside and papers strewn everywhere. He said investigators told him they had a court order for the search but refused to show it. "They threatened to physically harm me if I didn't get out," he said.

At Yukos' headquarters in downtown Moscow, meanwhile, six investigators searched the office of Yukos security official Alexei Pichugin, who was arrested in June and charged with murder and attempted murder, Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin said.

The search was the third on Pichugin's office.

Shadrin said the latest raids would not have any impact on Yukos' activities.

The actions came as Mikhail Khodorkovsky was due to deliver a keynote address at the U.S.-Russia Business Council's 10th anniversary in Washington on Thursday.

Prosecutors said Yukos was welcome to sue if it felt its rights had been infringed upon. "If the lawyers believe there were legal violations in the searches, they can challenge our actions in court," Irina Alyoshina, a senior investigator at the Prosecutor General's Office, told Interfax.

Drel said he would. "We will not only take this matter up with the prosecutor general but we will also appeal to other authorities."