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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Khodorkovsky Wants Putin to Testify in Court

MTFormer Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky being led into court for the start of his second trial Tuesday. Khodorkovsky called on the judge to summon Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to testify and jokingly invited the state prosecutors to join him in the glass-a
Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky called on the court Tuesday to summon Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to testify at his second trial and jokingly invited prosecutors to join him in the glass-and-steel defendant's cage.

After nearly a month of preliminary hearings, Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev went on trial Tuesday on charges of embezzling all the oil produced by Yukos from 1998 to 2003 and laundering about $20 billion from 1998 to 2004. They were both arrested in 2003.

Khodorkovsky's lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant denounced the trial as a sham. "We presented all the reasons to stop this disgrace as soon as possible during the preliminary hearings," Klyuvgant said outside the courtroom. "We aren't trying to delay the trial."

Inside the courtroom, he read about two dozen names off a list of about 200 witnesses that the defense team wants to testify in court, including Putin, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and U.S. and French citizens who once sat on Yukos' board.

He said those people were familiar with Yukos' work over the period mentioned in the charges and had "examined the documents" of the company.

Judge Viktor Danilkin said it was too early to summon the senior government officials because the prosecution first had to be given a chance to present its side.

"The mentioned request is premature," Danilkin said, Interfax reported.

He did, however, reject the request to call in the foreigners. "The court doesn't see any legal cause to fulfill the request," he said.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev entered the courthouse silently and smiled at journalists crowded on the staircase of Moscow's Khamovnichesky District Court.

Khodorkovsky, looking calm and firm, made a statement at the beginning of the session, which provoked some applause in the packed courtroom.

Igor Tabakov / MT
A policeman standing near tattered posters of Khodorkovsky reading "Not guilty!" outside a Moscow court Tuesday.

Khodorkovsky suggested that the state prosecutors participating in the trial should be named as accomplices in embezzlement and join him and Lebedev in the defendant's cage. Prosecutors accuse Khodorkovsky and Lebedev of buying oil from Yukos-controlled production units at cost, 50 percent to 75 percent lower than market prices, and then pocketing the profit.

"They should check before making accusations, and if they were buying gasoline at prices lower than in Rotterdam then they should come in here, into the 'aquarium,' and wait for the court's decision," Khodorkovsky said.

The prosecutors passed reporters without comment Tuesday.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are accused of embezzling 350 million tons of oil valued at about 900 billion rubles ($25 billion) and of laundering 487.4 billion rubles and $7.5 billion.

Dozens of police officers patrolled the area around the court from Tuesday morning, several hour before the trial began at noon. A dozen demonstrators got out of a van near the court entrance with anti-Putin posters shortly before the defendants arrived in a prison vehicle. Chanting "Freedom for political prisoners," they handed flowers to reporters waiting in line to get into the courthouse and waved posters of Khodorkovsky reading "Not guilty!" Police quickly detained them.

Khodorkovsky's parents and about 50 reporters attended the session in the courtroom, while another 50 reporters watched the proceedings on closed-circuit televisions in a special room in the building.

Khodorkovsky, 45, had built Yukos into Russia's largest oil company by the time he was arrested in October 2003.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were convicted on tax evasion and fraud charges in 2005 and sentenced to eight years in jail. Those charges covered 2000 to 2003, raising questions whether prosecutors are violating double-jeopardy rules by trying the men for the same crime twice.

Russia's obligations to the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, bar it from trying people twice for the same crime. A representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe attended the trial Tuesday. She spoke for about 15 minutes with Khodorkovsky during a break in the proceedings.

After the first trial, Yukos was sold off at bargain prices to pay back tax claims in a series of controversial auctions won mostly by the state-owned Rosneft.

Rosneft and the Federal Property Management Agency are suing Khodorkovsky in the second trial. The judge on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Khodorkovsky to exclude them as plaintiffs.

Khodorkovsky and his supporters say his legal troubles are punishment from the Kremlin for his political and commercial ambitions. The Kremlin denies this.

The trial is expected to last from six months to a year. If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to up to 22 1/2 years in prison.

Natalya Krainova contributed to this report.