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Medvedev Tells Officials Not to Speak on Khodorkovsky

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said government officials shouldn’t comment on the second criminal case against former Yukos Oil Co. billionaire owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky before the verdict.

“Neither the president nor any other official in state service has the right to give his position on this or any other case ahead of the verdict,” Medvedev said today in comments broadcast on state television.

The judge in the current trial for graft and tax evasion is scheduled to start reading the verdict on Dec. 27, a process that may take weeks. Khodorkovsky, serving an eight-year sentence, faces an additional six years.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Dec. 16 said during his annual call-in show with the nation that “a thief should sit in jail,” referring to Khodorkovsky’s conviction in his first trial for fraud. Putin said later that day he didn’t think his comments put pressure on the Moscow court that will start reading the verdict on Dec. 27.

During Putin’s presidency, Yukos, once Russia’s largest company by market value, was bankrupted under $30 billion of tax claims and sold off in pieces, mostly to OAO Rosneft, the state oil producer chaired by Putin deputy Igor Sechin. Khodorkovsky has called the case against him retribution for his political opposition to Putin.

Khodorkovsky could hardly contain his irritation while watching Putin’s call-in-show, he said in an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta today.

His irritation later gave way to “pity for this man, already no longer young, so vigorous and so lonely, facing a boundless and ruthless country,” Khodorkovsky said.

‘Slave Galley’

“It is clear that he is incapable of tearing himself away from the unwieldy oar of the monstrous slave galley he has built,” Khodorkovsky said. “A galley which indifferently moves over people’s fate, a galley with a black pirate flag waving more and more often at Russian citizens.”

Putin said in February 2008 that he had worked “like a galley slave” during his eight years as president.

Medvedev today dismissed concern that Khodorkovsky is the only person serving time for illegal practices that other businessmen in post-Soviet Russia engaged in.

“If there is proof that other people committed similar crimes then where is it? Where are these criminal cases?” Medvedev said in televised comments. “This is a matter of proof, bring it, we will work.”

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