- Khodorkovsky says his Open Russia group won't be intimidated
- Russia's former richest man faces murder charges in absentia
Russia raised the pressure on former jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the country’s richest man, as law-enforcement officials carried out dawn raids on homes of staff working for his Open Russia foundation.
Investigators also searched the foundation’s Moscow office in connection with a criminal case dating back to 2003, the organization said on its website on Tuesday. Khodorkovsky, who was charged in absentia this month in relation to the 1998 murder of a mayor in a Siberian oil town, said he and his staff won’t be intimidated.
“Everyone who works with Open Russia was aware from the very beginning that such pressure not only was possible but inevitable,” Khodorkovsky said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. “The logic of any authoritarian regime means we had no doubts about this, so we’ll continue working as before.”
Khodorkovsky, 52, showed defiance after the authorities said they’d charge him with the murder, insisting it won’t be long before President Vladimir Putin is ousted from power. The former Yukos Oil Co. chief 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 pledging to steer clear of politics, he’s been supporting efforts to end Putin’s 15-year rule.
The Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Vladimir Markin, told the state-run TASS news service that the raids were in connection with a 2003 criminal case involving Yukos. At the time of the case, which centered on accusations that Khodorkovsky and others had misappropriated shares in a fertilizer producer, OAO Apatit, some of Open Russia’s staff were children, the group said.
Investigators are also checking the legality of the acquisition of Yukos shares by foreign companies that initiated proceedings in international courts to enforce a $50 billion damages award against Russia, the committee said on its website. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in 2014 that Russia was liable to pay the sum for the seizure of Yukos assets.
The move marks a “ridiculous” effort to counter the enforcement of the damages in U.S. and other courts by securing a ruling in Russia that declares the original acquisition of the Yukos shares illegal, said Tim Osborne, head of GML Ltd., a holding company belonging to four former owners of Yukos who don’t include Khodorkovsky.
“They are just trying to find some way out of this $50 billion award,” Osborne said. “It is astonishing that out of the blue after 20 years they decided to investigate the acquisition of the shares. It’s going to make Russia an even bigger laughing stock in the rest of the world. ”
Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil producer, was dismantled and mainly transferred to state-run OAO Rosneft to settle billions of dollars in tax bills.