Moscow, 28 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday vowed not to intervene in the prosecution of Russia's richest oil executive, Mikhail Khodorkovskii (pictured). Putin said it was up to the courts to decide the fate of Khodorkovskii, the head of oil major Yukos and reportedly Russia's richest man.
Khodorkovskii was arrested in Siberia on 25 October and is now in jail in Moscow pending further investigation. He is charged with fraud and tax evasion partly related to the mass privatizations of the 1990s. Much of the old Soviet state wealth ended up in the hands of a few "oligarchs," as they came to be known.
His arrest has sparked fears of a reversal of the past decade's sales of state assets. Yesterday, Russian stocks sank more than 10 percent. Yukos shares lost a fifth of their value and the ruble dropped on fears that the arrest would send money out of Russia.
But Putin called for an end to "speculation and hysteria" over the possibility of any roll-back of the privatizations. "As regards the case under investigation, there will be no generalizations, analogies, or precedents, especially in connection with the results of privatization. So I would ask everyone to stop all the speculations and hysteria on this issue and I ask the government not to get involved in this discussion," Putin said.
In Washington, the State Department questioned whether Russian laws are being enforced selectively. Some analysts say Khodorkovskii's arrest is politically motivated. Khodorkovskii backs two liberal parties competing against Putin's allies in December's parliamentary elections.