Former Yukos chief slams fraud charges as 'absurd'

Speaking from a medieval-looking metal cage in a cramped Moscow courtroom Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, ridiculed the fraud charges against him yesterday in a powerful
tour de force that embarrassed the Kremlin.

Speaking from a medieval-looking metal cage in a cramped Moscow courtroom Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, ridiculed the fraud charges against him yesterday in a powerful tour de force that embarrassed the Kremlin.

Addressing his accusers for the first time since he was arrested at gunpoint on an icy Siberian runway almost nine months ago, the articulate oligarch dismissed the plethora of charges as simply "absurd." "I shall prove their groundlessness not only from the point of view of the law ... I will also prove them to be absurd from an ethical point of view," he said.

Charged with fraud and embezzlement to the tune of $1bn, Mr Khodorkovsky claimed he would easily prove his innocence and mounted a staunch defence of Yukos, the embattled oil giant which he used to run.

Facing a series of crippling back tax bills, the company is perilously close to bankruptcy but continues to try to work out a settlement with a so far unreceptive government.

Mr Khodorkovsky has offered to give up a large stake in the firm owned by himself and his associates but his proposal has gone unanswered. Yesterday he said that far from being a tax sinner, Yukos had actually handed over far more money to the state than most other Russian companies.

"It is difficult to understand how a company that is Russia's second biggest tax payer after Gazprom and which was subject to 500 audits a year ... finds out after four years that is has to pay more. In my opinion, society has not had any illusions about the underlying political motives in this case for a long time," he added, referring to oft-repeated claims that the trial is a Kremlin-backed attempt to punish him for his unsanctioned political forays.

Looking gaunt and wearing his trademark T-shirt and jeans the bespectacled billionaire - said by Forbes magazine to be worth $15.2bn - claimed he was a scapegoat for the botched privatisation process of the 1990s. "I will prove that what is happening is an awkward attempt to blame me for the faults of the privatisation laws in the 1990s."

Prosecutors claim that he and his associates were part of a "criminal group" whose sole purpose was to illegally snap up large stakes in major Russian firms during the anarchic auctions of that period.

Mr Khodorkovsky denies all charges.

Platon Lebedev, his close associate who is being tried alongside him on similar charges, also addressed the court yesterday. Looking wan and drained, and said by his doctors to be seriously ill, he claimed the charges against him had been fabricated and that he too was the victim of a political vendetta.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015