Khodorkovsky plans to call world leaders as witnesses in trial

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The Independent Online

Defence lawyers for the jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said yesterday they would call Western heads of state, chief executives of leading foreign companies and the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the witness stand as the former oligarch fights charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

Mr Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia's richest man and head of the Yukos oil empire, was jailed for eight years in 2005 on tax evasion charges and is currently undergoing a second trial that could see him kept behind bars for another two decades.

Supporters of the jailed businessman say that both cases are politically motivated, and constitute the personal revenge of Mr Putin for Mr Khodorkovsky going back on an unspoken agreement between the Kremlin and the oligarchs not to enter politics. The trial has lasted for more than a year, and the prosecution wrapped up its case this week. The defence will begin its arguments on Monday, and has more than 400 witnesses it wants to call.

Among those are high-profile foreign businessmen and politicians with direct knowledge of the case. Mr Khodorkovsky's lawyers said the issue was so sensitive the names could not be revealed yet.

But, the list definitely includes Mr Putin, who the defence says met many times with Mr Khodorkovsky when he was president. Mr Khodorkovsky last month provided The Independent with questions he would like to ask Mr Putin. Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin's spokesman, told Vedomosti newspaper that the Russian prime minister had been made aware of them, but was unlikely to answer.

"The prime minister has no legal immunity from appearing as a witness," said Vadim Klyuvgant, Mr Khodorkovsky's lawyer. However he acknowledged it was unlikely that Mr Putin would appear before the court.

Mr Khodorkovsky has served most of his sentence at a prison in Siberia, but was moved to Moscow last year for the new trial. He appears most weekdays with his co-defendant, Platon Lebedev at court in central Moscow.

Mr Klyuvgant said it was impossible to predict when the case would end.

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