- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

MOSCOW (AP) — A group of shareholders controlling Russia’s largest oil company, Yukos, have offered their stock to the government in exchange for the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Yukos’ former chief.

Leonid Nevzlin said that he and other core shareholders of Group Menatep a holding company had offered to turn over their stake in Yukos to the government if it agrees to let Mr. Khodorkovsky out of jail.

“Life and liberty are more valuable than shares,” Mr. Nevzlin, believed to own 3.5 percent of Yukos through Menatep, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Mr. Nevzlin said the offer applied to shares in Yukos and other companies held both directly and indirectly by the Group Menatep partners.

Mr. Nevzlin said the offer was conditional on Mr. Khodorkovsky and another shareholder, Platon Lebedev, being released first.

After their release, Mr. Nevzlin and the other shareholders will surrender their shares, he said.

He declined to say which government officials had been approached about the offer. He did, however, add that the shareholders were willing to forfeit all of Group Menatep in addition to just the Yukos shares to ensure Mr. Khodorkovsky’s and Mr. Lebedev’s freedom.

The Interfax news agency quoted Mr. Nevzlin as saying that the decision to make the offer was made a week ago.

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office said yesterday that it hadn’t received any such proposal. But Interfax quoted a source in the prosecutor’s office as saying, “No one is going to react to a proposal that is absurd from both a legal and a moral point of view.”

Mr. Khodorkovsky, who resigned as Yukos chief shortly after his Oct. 25 arrest on fraud and tax evasion charges, has remained in custody pending trial. Courts have repeatedly dismissed petitions to free him on bail.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any political undertones to the probe.

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