Putin trying to destroy oil tycoon, says EU official

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is deliberately trying to destroy the economic empire of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the detained founder of oil giant Yukos, a senior European Union official said yesterday.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is deliberately trying to destroy the economic empire of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the detained founder of oil giant Yukos, a senior European Union official said yesterday.

"We interpret this as a decision of President Putin to destroy an economic empire which had certain strategic goals of political influence," Eneko Landaburu, the European Commission's Director General of External Relations, told the European Parliament.

"What's happening here is essentially a settling of accounts," he said when asked about moves by Russia to force the sale of Yukos' main production subsidiary to pay a tax bill.

Most EU leaders have been cautious in commenting on the Yukos case, but Mr Landaburu, the top civil servant under EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, told parliament's foreign affairs committee he saw no sign the Kremlin was trying to take over running the economy.

He said it was clear the Yukos crisis was worrying foreign investors in Russia, whose economy is heavily reliant on the raw materials sector. But the case appeared to be a one-off, Landaburu said.

Mr Khodorkovsky, on trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion, became Russia's richest man through his stake in Yukos. But he fell out with Mr Putin by publicly backing liberal opposition to the president, who was then seeking re-election.

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