Russia's Khodorkovsky testifies for ex-colleague

2nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky took to the witness stand on Thursday in a court case against a Spanish former associate who is being tried for embezzlement in absentia.

Antonio Valdes Garcia, who fled Russia from under house arrest to Spain, headed the Fargoil subsidiary of Khodorkovsky's Yukos oil giant and had "very limited powers", he said.

Khodorkovsky added that he did not personally know the man.

The prosecution is claiming the director of Fargoil, a company that received crude oil from Yukos' oil producing companies, laundered money by selling it at inflated prices and channeling profits to offshore accounts.

"If Valdes Garcia or any other director breached any instructions, I would know about it in a week, maximum," he said, adding that the company would have fired and sued him.

Valdes Garcia disappeared from Russia around New Year's Eve of 2006 in the middle of a court case against him and two other Yukos affiliates. He reportedly vanished after locking up his two guards in the apartment where he was held.

Russia attempted to extradite Valdes Garcia in 2009 but the request was refused by Spain, which does not extradite its nationals. The full circumstances of his escape have never been made public.

Arriving to court handcuffed and smiling to the audience that included his parents and wife, Khodorkovsky responded to questions posed by Valdes Garcia's defence for almost two hours.

Police removed his handcuffs before the former tycoon, who has been in jail since 2003, took the stand facing the courtroom and blew his family kisses.

The former magnate and his business partner Platon Lebedev are set to stay in jail until 2016 after receiving fresh sentences for fraud, to be served alongside their initial eight-year sentences for tax evasion.

Both men requested parole Tuesday for which they legally qualify after serving half of their 13-year-long terms.

As a witness in the Valdes Garcia case, Khodorkovsky gave his testimony in the open courtroom and not in the cage where Russia places accused defendants and where he sat for the duration of both his trials.

© 2011 AFP

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