- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

MOSCOW (AP) — The preliminary hearing in Russian oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s long-anticipated trial was adjourned yesterday until June 8 after tax inspectors asked to join in the case, which is widely seen as a Kremlin warning to business magnates not to meddle in politics.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, wearing a greenish-blue fleece and carrying a plastic bag with a water bottle inside, was led under tight security into Moscow’s Meshchansky Court. His right wrist was handcuffed to a camouflage-clad guard.

Mr. Khodorkovsky’s parents, Boris and Maria Khodorkovsky, waited in the crowded court hallway, hoping to catch a glimpse of their 40-year-old son who has been jailed since his Oct. 25 arrest on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

After a few hours of procedural motions, Judge Irina Kolesnikova postponed the hearing until June 8, and Russia’s richest man was brought back to his cell in Matrosskaya Tishina jail.

“He is not guilty. I know my son,” said Maria Khodorkovsky, who climbed onto a bench to try to get a clearer view. “I know how I raised him.”

The 10-month investigation against Yukos and its shareholders is seen by many as retaliation for Mr. Khodorkovsky’s political aspirations. Ahead of last December’s parliamentary elections, Mr. Khodorkovsky openly supported several opposition parties, became increasingly assertive on policy issues and publicly lectured the Kremlin for its weak stance on corruption.

Some observers had speculated that Mr. Khodorkovsky’s wealth, estimated at $15.2 billion, and his control of a key business in Russia’s strategically important oil industry might propel him to the presidency.

“The authorities … have two aims: to civilize society but also a slightly contradictory goal, to control it,” said Igor Bunin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Technology. “With the help of the Yukos case … authorities have eliminated the political and economic autonomy of Yukos, which in their opinion, presented a potential threat.”

On Wednesday, Moscow’s Arbitration Court approved the Tax Ministry’s back taxes claim of 99.4 billion rubles ($3.4 billion) against Yukos for 2000, which the company warned Thursday might drive it to bankruptcy by the year’s end. The Tax Ministry is also auditing Yukos’ tax records from 2001.

Analysts say the multipronged attack on Yukos may be an attempt to force Mr. Khodorkovsky to make a deal and give up his assets in exchange for a lighter sentence.

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