The Russian former oligarch Mik-hail Khodorkovsky appeared in court in Moscow yesterday at the start of hearings in a new criminal case that could send him back to prison for 20 more years. The former chief of the Yukos oil company, Mr Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man until his arrest in 2003.
Dressed in jeans and a black sweater, with his grey hair cropped short, he made his first public appearance in the Russian capital since being sentenced to eight years in prison in 2005. Alongside him was his former business partner, Platon Lebedev, who is also serving an eight-year sentence. Both face new charges of money-laundering and embezzlement.
Security was tight at the Khamovnichesky Court, a scruffy building overlooking the Moscow River in the centre of the capital. The road had been closed to pedestrians and police patrolled the street with sniffer dogs ahead of Mr Khodorkovsky's arrival. The initial hearings were closed to the press, with television cameras allowed into the main courtroom for just a few minutes before proceedings started at midday. There were chaotic scenes outside the court during the hour before, with journalists jostling for admission, and lawyers for the defence elbowing their way through to get into the court.
A small group of demonstrators gathered outside the court chanting "Freedom for Mikhail Khodorkovsky!" They ignored demands from police to disperse, and several were arrested.
Mr Khodorkovsky uttered just one word on his way into court, shouting "Shame!" During the initial hearings yesterday, the defence team called for the prosecution lawyers to be replaced, but the judge rejected that. The prosecution is led by Dmitry Shokhin, who worked on the first case against Mr Khodorkovsky and was given a state award after the initial conviction. Mr Khodorkovsky's first trial was widely seen as a response to his funding of opposition political parties in Russia. He is said to have irritated Russia's former president and present Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, as well as hardliners in Mr Putin's inner circle, by going against an informal agreement not to go into politics.
Now, with Russia in a difficult financial position and visible tension in the ruling elite growing, the timing of the second trial suggests that key figures in the Russian government want to ensure Mr Khodorkovsky stays behind bars for the foreseeable future.
Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer who represented Mr Khodorkovsky in the first trial, said: "The investigative abuse has been of a historic level. According to the sworn testimony of Vasily Aleksanian, he was actually deprived of medications in an attempt to force him to perjure himself." Mr Aleksanian, a former vice-president of Yukos, stood trial in Moscow a year ago despite being critically ill with Aids-related cancer and tuberculosis. He claimed he was offered a deal by prosecutors to have treatment abroad if he gave evidence against Mr Khodorkovsky.
According to Mr Khodorkovsky's mother, Marina, the time in a remote Siberian prison camp, six time zones from Moscow, has radicalised her son, lending weight to fears that if released, the former Yukos boss could become a figurehead for the fractured opposition to the Kremlin's rule.
"As funny as it may seem, they made a politician out of him," she told AP in advance of the trial. "Before he was a lot less interested in politics, he was more interested in business and manufacturing activities, but for all this time he's been in prison his circumstances and public opinion have made him into a political figure."
The preliminary hearings continue today and the case itself is expected to start in a few weeks.Reuse content