Russia targets Kremlin critic Khodorkovsky in murder probe
Russian investigators announced on Tuesday that Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky might have ordered the murder of a Siberian mayor, saying they would seek to question the self-exiled former tycoon.
Investigators said they were reviving a criminal probe into the 1998 murder amid efforts by Khodorkovsky, chief of the former oil company Yukos, to challenge President Vladimir Putin's grip on power from his self-imposed exile in Switzerland.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, suggested that authorities were seeking to punish him for his criticsm of the Kremlin.
The Investigative Committee, which reports directly to Putin, said it had obtained new evidence enabling it to re-open a probe into the murder of Vladimir Petukhov, mayor of Nefteyugansk where Yukos's biggest unit was based.
"According to the information now available to the Investigative Committee, Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky might have personally ordered this murder and a number of other extremely serious crimes," spokesman Vladimir Markin said without elaborating on the allegations.
Investigators plan to question a number of witnesses and suspects, Markin said in a statement, adding that Khodorkovsky will "most likely be among them."
The fact that Khodorkovsky resides in Switzerland will not be an obstacle to conducting the investigation, he added.
Khodorkovsky's response to the announcement was steeped in irony.
"I ask Markin to clarify whether this is a reaction to a ruling in the Hague or a series of articles about the future of Russia after Putin?" he said on Twitter.
A tribunal in the Hague last year ordered Russia to pay $50 billion to shareholders of Yukos that was broken up after the ex-tycoon fell out with the Kremlin.
Markin shot back, saying the Investigative Committee was not interested in politics.
"We are studying only those articles which have proof of Khodorkovsky's authorship," the acid- tongued spokesman responded in a tweet.
"That they are only criminal is not our fault."
The former security chief of Yukos, Alexei Pichugin, has been sentenced to life in prison over the mayor's murder. Lawyers say the company's employees have fallen victim to political persecution.
Khodorkovsky's lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant dismissed the investigators' allegations as a "fantasy", while his spokeswoman Olga Pispanen called them "some form of summer madness".
Khodorkovsky, 52, was snatched off his corporate jet in 2003, convicted of fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement and spent a decade in jail in what his supporters called punishment for daring to challenge the Kremlin strongman.
Putin has repeatedly suggested that Khodorkovsky might be guilty of more serious crimes such as murder, saying he had his arms in blood "up to the elbows."
Investigators had raised the prospect of a third case against Khodorkovsky but Putin stunned Russia in 2013 by suddenly pardoning the former tycoon, drawing the curtain on the most notorious legal case in post-Soviet Russian history.
Upon his release from prison, the former businessman was flown to Germany and now lives in Switzerland with his family.
Initially he promised to steer clear of politics but then publicly voiced his readiness to take on the country's top job and lead Russia in times of crisis.
Last year Khodorkovsky launched a movement dubbed Open Russia to unite pro-European Russians, saying the time had come to think of the country's future after Putin.
© 2015 AFP