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Khodorkovsky Trial Lawyer To Call Russian Minister

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) and Platon Lebedev in court
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The business partner of fallen Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky wants Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin to appear as a witness at their trial on charges of embezzling $25 billion, his lawyer has said.

Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev are both serving eight-year prison terms for fraud and tax evasion after a highly politicized trial in 2005 widely viewed as part of former President Vladimir Putin's campaign to clip the wings of powerful tycoons.

The two were brought to Moscow last month from their Siberian prison to face new charges in a joint trial being watched for any signs of a softer line from Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev. "Kudrin is one of the witnesses we want to call up," Lebedev's lawyer Konstantin Rivkin told Reuters. "The reason is that as finance minister he has signed a number of regulatory documents we are interested in."

"I hope he will be summoned to court as a witness," Rivkin added. "I cannot know whether he will come."

Prosecutors say Khodorkovsky helped embezzle 900 billion rubles ($25.39 billion) and laundered 500 billion rubles, charges that could keep him in jail for another 22 years, if he is found guilty. Lebedev faces similar charges

Defense lawyers say their clients are political prisoners and the new charges are absurd.

Kudrin's press service declined to comment on the defense lawyers' plea.

Earlier the Moscow court rejected defense requests to change state prosecutors and the trial judge for reasons of alleged bias.