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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kasyanov: Lebedev Arrest 'Excessive'

ReutersPrime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Tuesday that "it isn't right to arrest someone for economic-related crimes" and that last week's arrest of Yukos billionaire Platon Lebedev was "excessive."

"There are enough crimes committed that actually threaten people's lives and to which such measures should be applied," Kasyanov told journalists in the Siberian city of Yakutsk.

The remarks were the first Kasyanov has made publicly about the case, which has dominated headlines nationwide and shaken Moscow's financial and political elite.

Lebedev, who owns 7 percent of Group Menatep, which in turn owns 61 percent of Yukos, Russia's largest crude producer and its most valuable company, was arrested by federal prosecutors last week and charged with defrauding the state out of more than $280 million in the 1994 privatization of the giant Apatit fertilizer factory in Murmansk.

Law enforcement officials, however, have the right and should investigate economic crimes, Kasyanov said. "This should be treated with understanding."

The arrest of Lebedev and the simultaneous announcement that another Yukos official, Alexei Pichugin, had been arrested earlier on double murder charges, has sent shockwaves through the business community. The arrests are seen as an attack on Mikhail Khodorkovsky by a faction within the Kremlin unhappy with the Yukos founder's political aspirations.

On Friday, Menatep's two largest shareholders, Khodorkovsky and Leonid Nevzlin, were also summoned for questioning.

The nation's most powerful business lobby, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or RSPP, of which Khodorkovsky is a member, will discuss the case at a closed meeting Wednesday, although the issue is not officially on the agenda, according to a source close to the RSPP.

The State Property Fund, which oversees all privatizations, should have been the organization to make the most noise about the Apatit sale if it felt there were improprieties, but officials at the fund said Tuesday that they had no complaints.

It did, however, spend eight years trying to recover a 20 percent stake in Apatit from a Menatep subsidiary, fund spokesman Vladimir Zelentsov said. The dispute was eventually resolved after a court ordered the Menatep subsidiary to pay the state $15 million for the stake, which it did, Interfax reported.

Lebedev and Pichugin, the head of Yukos' economic security department, are both still in the Federal Security Service's Lefortovo prison, and both maintain their innocence, although Lebedev's lawyers were unable to see their client between Sunday and Tuesday evening, when they waited five hours and got to talk to him for just 35 minutes, said Lebedev's spokesman, Yury Kotler.

Kotler also said that Lebedev had been denied medical attention. Lebedev admitted himself to a hospital with chest pains Wednesday before he was arrested and taken away in handcuffs.

Pichugin's lawyer, Georgy Kaginer, said prosecutors seemed to be taking little interest in the case, since Lebedev had not been questioned since Friday and Pichugin had not been questioned since June 26, the day of his arrest. "I don't know, maybe [investigators] are working on something else, like questioning witnesses," he said.