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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Says Yukos Case All About Murder

President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that he could not interfere in the ongoing investigation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's oil giant Yukos because crimes such as murder have been alleged and they are too serious to ignore, Interfax reported.

"The case is about Yukos and the possible links of individuals to murders in the course of the merging and expansion of this company," Putin told U.S. journalists ahead of his trip to Camp David this week. "In such a case, how can I interfere with prosecutors' work?"

The remarks were the first Putin has made directly about an investigation that began with the June arrest of a senior security official at the company for murder and has since mushroomed to included embezzlement and tax evasion. A key Khodorkovsky partner, Yukos shareholder and Menatep chairman Platon Lebedev, has been in jail since July on charges that he stole a government stake in fertilizer monopoly Apatit in 1994.

Putin denied the widespread belief that the legal assault was instigated by Kremlin hawks unhappy with Khodorkovsky's growing taste for politics.

That is "complete rubbish," he said. "What I'm trying to do is warn both sides not to make the affair political," Interfax quoted him as saying.

He dismissed concerns that the case was an effort to reverse the rigged privatizations of the 1990s, upon which Khodorkovsky and most of Russia's richest men built their fortunes.

"Privatization is the least of the reasons for [the investigation]," he said.

He denied the case had raised the fears of the business community, or that it was a prelude for a wider assault of the oligarchs, whom he has vowed "to get rid of as a class."

But Putin did accuse the oligarchs of "lacking a sense of social responsibility," although he said they were starting to change for the better.

"They have already made enough money for themselves, their children and grandchildren, and they should stop making money [just for the sake of it]. It is time to do something creative, and they already understand that."