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Former Yukos Employee Sentenced To 20 Years In Prison

30 March 2005 -- A Moscow city court today sentenced a former Yukos employee to 20 years in prison for murder.

Aleksei Pichugin, once a top security officer for Yukos, was found guilty last week of organizing the murder of a couple -- whose bodies were never found -- and the attempted murder of another person.

His arrest in July 2003 marked the beginning of a wider investigation into Yukos, once Russia's largest oil producer.

Pichugin has dismissed the charges as part of a Kremlin-instigated crackdown on Yukos. His lawyers have said they would appeal the verdict.

"We disagree with the court's decision and we'll appeal it," Pichugin's defense lawyer Georgi Kaganer said. "In the file of the investigation there is no proof of [Pichugin's] involvement in the crimes he is accused of, for which he got 20 years in prison."

Pichugin's sentence came shortly after prosecutors yesterday demanded maximum 10-year sentences for Yukos's founder Mikhail Khodrokovskii and another Yukos official who are on trial for tax evasion and fraud. Meanwhile, Yukos has been dismantled to pay off $27 billion in back taxes.