Russia Seeks Exiled Khodorkovsky's Arrest on Murder Charges

  • Russia's former richest man says authorities have gone `crazy'
  • Arrest order comes day after raids on Khodorkovsky activists

Russia ordered the detention of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the country’s richest man, on murder charges and issued an international arrest warrant for the exiled opponent of President Vladimir Putin.

The Investigative Committee announced the decision, saying it has proof that Khodorkovsky ordered the 1998 murder of a mayor in a Siberian oil town for standing in the way of the interests of the former imprisoned tycoon’s Yukos Oil Co., according to a website statement on Wednesday.

“It’s not important where someone accused of such serious crimes is hiding -- in Russia, or abroad, or even in Antarctica, we are obliged to take all necessary measures to ensure they face criminal responsibility,” the law-enforcement agency said.

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. Now based in London, after initially pledging to steer clear of politics, he’s been supporting efforts to end Putin’s 15-year rule.

Dawn Raids

Russian authorities on Tuesday raised the pressure on Khodorkovsky as law-enforcement officials carried out dawn raids on homes of staff working for his Open Russia foundation and its Moscow office.

The ex-billionaire condemned the moves against him and his supporters. “They’ve gone crazy,” he said in a statement posted on Open Russia’s website. Khodorkovsky has reacted defiantly to the murder charges, which he denies, insisting it won’t be long before Putin is ousted from power.

The arrest order is due to a "purely criminal" case, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call, responding to Khodorkovsky’s comments that the arrest comes as Putin sees political threat in him.

The former tycoon said he’s considering seeking political asylum in the U.K. as one of several options, the BBC reported Wednesday.

Russia’s 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.”

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.

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