Khodorkovsky condems prosecution case as 'empty chatter'

1st November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Jailed Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Monday slammed the accusations against him as "empty chatter," speaking in court in the final stages of his trial on fresh charges of embezzlement.

"Khodorkovsky and Lebedev did not steal the oil, since they did not seize it either physically or legally," said the toppled chief of Yukos oil giant, referring to his former business partner and co-accused Platon Lebedev.

The case for the prosecution is "empty chatter, aimed at idiots," Khodorkovsky said in a brief speech. "If the prosecution stoops to deception, it means it has no more arguments to make."

Dressed smartly in a black shirt and jacket, Khodorkovsky responded to prosecutor Valery Lakhtin, who earlier accused the defence of telling lies.

"We do not see it necessary to dwell in detail on what the defence and the accused said, since everything they said is a lie," Lakhtin said, accusing Khodorkovsky of using media coverage to create a favourable image.

"Khodorkovsky built his defence on creating public opinion about a political element to his trial. The accused and their defence drew such conclusions in media under their control," Lakhtin said.

The prosecution has argued that Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia's richest man, stole over 200 million tonnes of oil.

In an interview with opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta published Monday, Khodorkovsky said he would like to ask Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about the charges, which refer to the time when Putin was prime minister for a first spell and then president.

"I would like to ask him how realistic he thinks it is that he could not have noticed at that moment the loss of 20 percent of all the oil extracted in Russia," Khodorkovsky said in a face-to-face interview during the trial.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle while on a visit to Moscow expressed concern about the case, stressing the importance of the independence of courts.

"In civil society there are certain fears and concerns," Westerwelle said in televised comments at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

"We expressed these concerns. It is in the interests of Russia that these concerns be taken seriously," he said.

Earlier this month prosecutors called for 14-year sentences for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who have been behind bars since 2003 and who went on trial on the new charges in March 2009.

They are accused of stealing and illegally reselling millions of tons of oil between 1998 and 2003.

The two men were jailed for eight years in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges that Khodorkovsky's supporters argue were trumped up to punish the tycoon for daring to finance opposition parties.

Before being convicted, the two men spent two years behind bars in pre-trial detention.

Putin's government insists that Khodorkovsky is guilty of massive financial crimes stemming from the controversial privatisations of the 1990s.

© 2010 AFP

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