Putin says 'surprised' by second Khodorkovsky trial: media

30th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in an interview published Monday he was "surprised" by the second trial of jailed oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, widely seen as orchestrated by the Kremlin.

Interviewed by the daily Kommersant, Putin said he was surprised when prosecutors in 2008 announced fresh charges against the former Yukos chief that could see him serve two more decades in jail.

"When I heard about the second trial, I was very surprised and asked what case this was, since he is already serving time for what he did. What is this second trial?" Putin said.

Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos oil company, and his business partner Platon Lebedev face fresh charges of embezzling millions of tons of oil and money laundering, while already serving lengthy jail sentences for fraud.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were jailed for eight years in 2005 on charges of fraud and tax evasion that their supporters argue were trumped up to punish the tycoon for daring to finance opposition parties.

At the time of his arrest in 2003, Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was seen as a political rival to Putin.

Putin denied having involvement in the case and said he supported the second trial. "If such a case is being heard, it means that the law requires it. I'm not in charge of this case," he said.

Asked by the paper why he "hounded Khodorkovsky into a corner," Putin denied the charge.

"He is being justifiably punished," Putin said. "He will come out of prison and he will be a free man. No, I definitely never pushed him into a corner."

© 2010 AFP

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