- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) - Imprisoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Monday that new charges against him are unclear and the indictment so full of contradictions he doubts even the prosecutors know what they’re accusing him of.

In sometimes emotional remarks from a glass-and-steel cage, Khodorkovsky told the prosecutors facing him across a Moscow courtroom that the indictment one of them had read out over the course of several days made little sense. He presented a slide show to illustrate his claims.

“I don’t understand,” he said, then gestured toward the prosecutors. “They don’t understand, and that’s the funniest thing.”

The prosecutors repeatedly tried to interrupt Khodorkovsky, saying he was obliged to limit his response to the judge’s question of whether he understood the indictment with a simple yes or no answer. They complained that he was presenting his defense and said that should be saved for a later portion of the trial.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year prison sentence after a 2005 conviction on fraud and tax evasion charges that were seen widely seen as part of a Kremlin-driven campaign to punish him for challenging then President Vladimir Putin and increase state control over oil revenues.

Brought from Siberia to Moscow this winter for the new trial, he faces up to 22 more years if convicted on charges of embezzling more than $25 billion worth of oil from production subsidiaries of his own oil company, Yukos, and of laundering most of the proceeds. His business partner Platon Lebedev is being tried with him on the same charges.

Khodorkovsky’s supporters claim the second trial is just a new phase of a reprisal campaign driven by political calculations, commercial interests and personal motives. It is being watched for signs of more judicial independence under Putin’s successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, a former lawyer who has stressed the importance of the rule of law.

The defendants and their lawyers describe the new charges as nonsense, saying they amount to an accusation that Khodorkovsky stole all the oil produced by Yukos from 1998 through 2003.

Khodorkovsky, reading from a sheaf of paper, said the persecutors used contradictory language in the indictment, making it unclear what he is being accused of, and that they failed to adequately explain their claim that the oil was embezzled.

“Where does it say, ‘Here is the oil, and here there is no oil?’” Khodorkovsky asked the prosecutors.

Defense lawyers also argue that Khodorkovsky is being tried a second time for the same actions. They say the tax evasion charges in his initial trial were based on the same oil pricing and trade practices that the state is now using as the foundation for the embezzlement and money-laundering charges.

The state’s claims are based largely on the difference between the relatively low prices that Yukos paid production subsidiaries for what came out the wells and the higher prices Yukos and related companies received for the oil sold abroad. Khodorkovsky’s legal team says such pricing mechanisms are common practice, but at the time shareholders in the production companies claimed bitterly that they were being robbed of their rightful profits.

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