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Judge Considers Verdict On Russia's Khodorkovskii

11 April 2005 -- The judge in the trial of Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovskii retired to consider her verdict today, after the jailed billionaire made a last plea of innocence.

Judge Irina Kolesnikova said she would announce her verdict on 27 April.

Speaking in court today in Moscow, Mikhail Khodorkovskii made what is likely to be his last plea of innocence:

"There is not a single document -- I stress, not a single one -- or a word of a witness, that proves any illegal activities on my part," Khodorkovskii said.

Former head of the Yukos oil giant, Khodorkovskii is accused of multiple charges of fraud and tax evasion. If found guilty, he could be jailed for up to 10 years. He is standing trial together with a Yukos minority shareholder Platon Lebedev, who also protests his innocence.

See also: Russia: Oligarch's Case A Sign Of The Times

In court today, Khodorkovskii denied all the charges against him.

"The whole country knows who set up the scandalous Yukos case and why," Khodorkovskii said. "It was launched by certain influential people with the purpose of taking over Russia's most successful oil company and its profits. The whole country knows that they jailed me so I couldn't stop them from looting the company."

The Russian government has justified its action against Yukos in legal terms, arguing that the company failed to pay taxes for several years. Officials have said the forced sale of Yukos's main asset, Yuganskneftegaz, was needed to pay those arrears. Yuganskneftegaz was eventually purchased by state oil company Rosneft.

The Yukos affair badly damaged Russia's reputation in the eyes of investors and it is not clear how quickly that reputation can be repaired.
"I have done as much as I could to help restore Russia's industry and build civil society." -- Khodorkovskii

Analysts say the Kremlin is punishing Khodorkovskii for his political ambition.

Before his arrest and imprisonment in 2003, Khodorkovskii had started to fund opposition political parties.

Khodorkovskii’s case has attracted the attention of human rights groups, who say Russia is abusing the rule of law.

Khodorkovskii is a household name in Russia and was once worth an estimated $15 billion. He was one of the "oligarchs," businessmen who amassed vast fortunes in the chaotic 1990s, when many Russians lost their savings and living standards plummeted. Khodorkovskii views matters differently.

"I have done as much as I could to help restore Russia's industry and build civil society," Khodorkovskii said. "I have made some mistakes here and there, but I sincerely tried to work for my country, for its benefit -- not for my pocket. Everybody knows that I am innocent of the crimes that I am accused of. Therefore, I do not intend to plead for mercy."

Meanwhile, the majority shareholder of Yukos, Leonid Nevzlin, has said that he believes the company will soon go bankrupt because of the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In comments yesterday, Nevzlin was quoted as telling Germany's “Focus” weekly that "with the amount of lawlessness and energy that Putin has deployed up until now, Yukos will be de facto bankrupt by summer."

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