Russia Brings Murder Charges Against Khodorkovsky in Absentia

  • Russia's former richest man plots Putin ouster in Swiss exile
  • Khodorkovsky denies charges, says case solved 17 years ago

Russia filed murder charges against the country’s one-time richest man, former jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who’s been campaigning for the ouster of President Vladimir Putin from Swiss exile since his release from prison two years ago.

The Investigative Committee announced the charges in absentia against Khodorkovsky over the 1998 murder of a mayor and two failed contract killings, according to a statement on Friday. The law-enforcement agency had summoned the former head of Yukos Oil Co. to appear in person in Moscow, which he ignored. Khodorkovsky has rejected the accusations.

The investigation “established without doubt that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was involved” in the murder and attempted contract killings, and played an “especially active role,” the committee said in the statement. “Not a single important decision at Yukos was taken without Khodorkovsky’s team.”

Khodorkovsky, 52, was freed by presidential pardon in December 2013 after serving a decade in prison on fraud, tax evasion and money-laundering charges that he says were retribution for funding opposition parties. After initially pledging to steer clear of politics, he’s been supporting efforts to end Putin’s 15-year-rule.

The ex-tycoon was defiant this week after the authorities said they would charge him with the murder, insisting it won’t be long before Putin is ousted from power.

Awaiting Revolution

“We won’t have to wait long for a revolution, it’s inevitable,” Khodorkovsky said in London on Wednesday during a live link-up with reporters in Moscow. “Love for Putin is like the syndrome of hostages held by terrorists. The Russian authorities soon will face the time when the hostages will change their view.”

The Investigative Committee said in June it had obtained evidence that Khodorkovsky may have ordered the murder of Vladimir Petukhov, the mayor of the western Siberian town of Nefteyugansk -- once home to Yukos’s largest production unit -- prompting it to reopen the criminal probe into the killing. Yukos’s former security chief, Alexei Pichugin, is serving a life sentence for shooting the mayor dead on Khodorkovsky’s 35th birthday amid a dispute with the oil company. Putin said in 2011 that he found it hard to believe Pichugin carried out the crime “all by himself.”

Khodorkovsky said earlier this week that the crime was solved in 1998 but the authorities let the suspects free inexplicably. Yuganskneftegaz, the former Yukos unit based in Nefteyugansk, was seized by the government and sold to repay taxes as part of a campaign that wrested control of Russia’s largest oil company at the time from Khodorkovsky, transferring most of its assets to state-run OAO Rosneft.

The law enforcement agency declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News. Russian authorities have put Khodorkovsky on their federal wanted list, the agency said on Friday.

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