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Russian Celebrities Call On Court To Acquit Khodorkovsky

The verdict in the trial against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, left, and his former business partner and co-accused Platon Lebedev is expected on November 15.
MOSCOW -- A group of prominent Russian intellectuals has called on Moscow's Khamovnichesky Court to acquit former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his associate, Platon Lebedev, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

In their petition, they also urged President Dmitry Medvedev "to guarantee the court's independence and prevent any possible outside influence on it."

Among the signatories to the petition were popular actors Oleg Basilashvili, Liya Akhedzhakova, and Inna Churikova, film director Eldar Ryazanov, writers Fazil Iskander and Boris Strugatsky, and others.

The court is expected to start pronouncing the verdict on Khodorkovsky on December 15.

Russian prosecutors demanded last month that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev be imprisoned for an additional six years if convicted in their second trial.

Prosecutors initially asked for a 14-year sentence, but later said they want that to include an eight-year sentence that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are serving that is due to end in October 2011.

Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos Oil Company, and Lebedev have both pleaded not guilty to embezzlement charges. The two were convicted in 2005 on fraud and tax-evasion charges that critics say were trumped up to punish Khodorkovsky for financing opposition parties.

At the time of his arrest in 2003, Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man and seen as a political rival to then President Vladimir Putin.

The two went on trial again on March 3, 2009, on new charges of embezzling millions of tons of oil and money laundering.