Former minister takes stand for defence in oil tycoon trial

21st June 2010, Comments 0 comments

A former Russian minister took the stand Monday for the defence in the trial of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, saying he would have known if millions of tonnes of oil had been embezzled as charged.

Khodorkovsky, who is already serving an eight-year prison sentence on fraud and tax evasion charges, is facing new charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

German Gref, who served as economic development and trade minister from 2000 to 2007, told the court he would have known if millions of tonnes of oil had been spotted being stolen from national pipelines.

"It wasn't my responsibility (to check)," Gref said. "But if it had been discovered I would have been informed."

Khodorkovsky himself questioned Gref, who was appointed president of Russian bank Sberbank after he lost his ministerial position.

A Khodorkovsky lawyer said the testimony was key to his defence.

"It's very important that he has confirmed that it is impossible to steal 60 million tonnes of oil per year from an oil pipe," lawyer Natalya Terekhova told AFP.

Current Russian industry and trade minister Viktor Khristenko is due to appear as a defence witness on Tuesday.

Last month, Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as prime minister from 2000 to 2004 and is now an opposition politician, said on the witness stand that Khodorkovsky was being prosecuted for political reasons.

He stands accused in this second trial of stealing millions of tonnes of oil and laundering money, fresh charges that could see him jailed for 22 more years.

Khodorkovsky calls the charges politically motivated, but the Russian government insists he is guilty of massive financial crimes stemming from Russia's controversial privatisations of the 1990s.

© 2010 AFP

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