Ex-Tory MP Fishburn behind campaign to free Russian oligarch Khodorkovsky

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The Independent Online

A former Conservative MP for Kensington has emerged as a leading figure in the fight by Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to clear his name.

Dudley Fishburn sits on the advisory board of Group Menatep, a Gibraltar-based company that controls 44 per cent of the shares in the oil company Yukos on behalf of Mr Khodorkovsky.

During the last few days, Mr Fishburn, who declined to comment, has been instrumental in the European campaign against the arrest of the oligarch, which was widely seen as politically motivated.

Mr Fishburn is also chairman of HFC Bank and a non-executive director of insurer Beazley Group. Between 1988 and 1997 he served as a Conservative MP under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

He has been working with Mr Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, distri-buting a 25-page dossier alleging human rights abuses by the Kremlin against Yukos executives. This includes claims that Alexei Pichugin, a Yukos security official, was tortured and injected with mind-altering drugs.

Mr Amsterdam refused to comment on Mr Fishburn's role in the campaign. However, he told The Independent on Sunday: "Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner. There has been a systemic violation of human rights in Russia and an attack on the rule of law. Political corruption is the biggest non-tariff barrier to trade with Russia. We are trying to draw attention to all of this. This is just the beginning of the campaign."

Mr Amsterdam has been touring Berlin, Rome, Paris and London to convince the West that Mr Khodorkovsky's arrest on fraud and tax evasion charges is linked to his political ambitions. Tomorrow Mr Amsterdam will visit Norway before travelling to Ireland. He refused to say if he was lobbying politicians.

The arrest of Mr Khodorkovsky has divided Europe. Speaking after a European Union-Russian summit last week, Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, jumped to the defence of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, claiming the Yukos saga had been distorted in the press. But the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, distanced himself from the remarks, saying he hoped Mr Berlusconi was better informed about Italy than about Russia.