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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Khodorkovsky Denied Bail by Court

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man and the former head of Yukos, will remain in jail at least until Dec. 30, the Moscow City Court ruled Tuesday as it rejected an appeal to let him out on bail.

"As soon as we receive the court decision in writing, I and my client may consider an appeal to higher courts or the European Court of Human Rights," Khodorkovsky's lawyer Anton Drel said after the two-hour closed hearing.

"We suspected that our arguments would not be listened to," Drel said, adding that the court's panel of three women judges had not even considered setting an amount for the bail.

Irina Yasina, Khodorkovsky's confidant and the director of his Open Russia charity, said the court had made the ruling under political pressure.

"Surely all of us knew what would be the outcome. ... All the decisions were made in advance," she told reporters outside the court building in northeastern Moscow.

The court chose to hear the case behind closed doors after prosecutors argued that evidence gathered in their investigation was too sensitive to be made public.

Since Khodorkovsky is accused of working with an "organized group" to commit theft and tax fraud, prosecutor Valery Lakhtin said, his associates could infiltrate the hearing and influence the outcome.

Khodorkovsky's lawyer Yelena Lvova countered that the bail request had nothing to do with any secret information since Lakhtin did not need to submit evidence demonstrating her client's guilt or innocence.

Adding to the ruling's sense of inevitability, the judges refused to allow Khodorkovsky to be physically present in the courtroom Tuesday. Instead, the court opted for him to participate via a closed-circuit camera from a barred cell in the prison where he is being held. It was Khodorkovsky's first public appearance since he was arrested at gunpoint at a Siberian airport on Oct. 25.

Looking withdrawn but calm, he gave his name, date of birth, his address and place of work at the start of the hearing. "Until recently I was a member of the board of Yukos," he said, speaking clearly and confidently.

He shrugged when the judges rejected his bail request.

Drel told reporters that he had argued in court that Khodorkovsky did not present a flight risk. He pointed out that prosecutors had his client's passports and had frozen his account in Yukos-linked Trust bank. He also presented the court with more than 40 letters vouching for Khodorkovsky -- including many from State Duma deputies and high-ranking politicians. One letter was signed by 300 Yukos employees. "[Khodorkovsky] also said that if he was released he would not try to obstruct the investigation and would not abuse the bail conditions in any way," Drel said.

While Khodorkovsky's defense felt they had done their best, observers polled Tuesday said they had no illusions. Khodorkovsky's arrest came after four months of legal attacks against his company and close allies. Core Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev has been in jail since July 2 on similar charges of fraud and tax evasion.

"Nothing could have been more predictable given the track record," said Christopher Granville, chief strategist at United Financial Group.

Granville said Lebedev's request for bail last summer came about the time President Vladimir Putin declared that he saw no need to keep business executives suspected of economic crime in pretrial detention. "Given that, I confidently predicted that Lebedev would be released on bail. I was wrong," Granville said. "A new trend has established itself, and the political atmosphere has deteriorated to such a degree that there are even less grounds for expecting any reversal of that trend."

Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the Indem think tank, said Khodorkovsky would only have been released if Putin had intervened and personally instructed the Prosecutor General's Office not to "pressure" the court.

But Khodorkovsky has become a much more daunting political animal since his incarceration and this kept Putin from stepping in, said Yevgeny Volk, the head of Heritage Foundation. Khodorkovsky is openly financing the Yabloko and Union of Right Forces political parties, and several of their deputies were pacing up and down the corridors of the court building Tuesday.

"Everyone understands that Khodorkovsky on the outside is much more powerful and has much more potential for political and economic maneuvering," Volk said.

James Fenkner, head of research at Troika Dialog, added: "If he is let out before the elections, could you imagine the political fight that might ensue? Releasing a wounded but enormously rich antagonist into the wilds of Russian politics could be destabilizing."

Yukos' parent company, Group Menatep, said late Tuesday that a 4.5 percent stake in Yukos that prosecutors declared unfrozen Oct. 31 was still under arrest at Trust bank.

Prosecutors froze a 44.1 percent stake in Yukos two weeks ago and said a few days later that they had released 4.5 percent. Prosecutors said Tuesday that they had sent the necessary paperwork to unfreeze the stake.