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Russia detains head of largest oil company
( 2003-10-25 14:56) (Agencies)

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of Russia's largest oil producer, Yukos, was detained early Saturday by security forces at an airport in Siberia, the Interfax news agency reported, citing Yukos company officials.

Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks to the media after returning to Russia from a trip to the United States at an airport outside Moscow, Wednesday July 16, 2003. [AP Photo/file]

For months, the Russian prosecutor's office has been investigating Yukos company officials and Yukos shareholders seeking evidence of tax evasion and theft of state property.

Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin was quoted by Interfax as saying that the plane was surrounded by trucks after it landed in Novosibirsk for a refueling stop.

Special forces in camouflage and black uniform boarded the plane, reportedly shouting "FSB, put your weapons down or we'll shoot." The FSB is the acronym for the Federal Security Service. A representative of the security forces then told Khodorkovsky to accompany them and he agreed.

The prosecutor's office confirmed that Khodorkovsky was detained because he had failed to appear for questioning on Friday as summoned, according to Interfax.

"In the framework of the criminal case, M. Khodorkovsky was summoned for questioning Friday. However, he deliberately ignored the summons for questioning, and in conjunction with that, a decision was made to force his appearance, which was done," the prosecutor general's office said.

Earlier this week, Russian prosecutors searched a company for evidence in connection with the criminal probe into Yukos, according to Interfax.

The company, Strategic Communications Agency, allegedly holds computer databases for companies controlled by the Russian oil giant, and Interfax said prosecutors hoped to find evidence of tax evasion on the databases.

Yukos denied that it had any connection to the company.

The investigation began in July with the arrest of Platon Lebedev, a top Yukos shareholder and board chairman of Menatep Group, on charges of theft of state property during the 1994 privatization of a fertilizer plant. Lebedev has remained in jail awaiting trial.

Last week, prosecutors also filed tax evasion charges against a Yukos manager, Vasily Shakhnovsky, who oversees day-to-day company operations and is responsible for customer relations and auditing.

Prosecutors also have carried out searches of Yukos-owned companies and the homes of Yukos shareholders.

Yukos recently completed its merger with its smaller rival Sibneft to create one of the world's top oil producers, and will formally become the new entity after a November shareholder meeting.

When he was detained on Saturday, Khodorkovsky was on his way from the Volga River town of Nizhny Novgorod to Irkutsk in central Siberia on a business trip. He had been expected back in Moscow on Monday, Interfax reported.

When the plane landed in Novosibirsk shortly before dawn, two buses full of men in camouflage drove up the plane. Khodorovsky was taken away from the airport. "At present, the oil company Yukos is unaware of the whereabouts of M. Khodorkovsky," Interfax quoted Shadrin as saying.

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