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Russian billionaire spends first night behind bars
( 2003-10-27 09:58) (China Daily)

Billionaire oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, jailed on charges of fraud, forgery and tax evasion, spent his first night in custody in a detention facility, the Interfax news agency reported yesterday.

Khodorkovsky, who heads the country's largest oil company Yukos and is regarded as Russia's richest man, was jailed on Saturday after being seized by special forces at an airport in Siberia where his private jet had landed.

He was then taken to Moscow and interrogated and charged in a dramatic escalation of a months-long probe of Yukos.

His lawyer Anton Drel said that a court late on Saturday had ordered Khodorkovsky to be held for up to two months in a pre-trial detention facility, which Interfax identified as Moscow's troubled Matrosskaya Tishina.

Interfax cited Deputy Justice Minister Yuri Kalinin as saying that Matrosskaya Tishina currently has about 3,500 detainees in the facility built for 2,500. Kalinin said Khodorkovsky was held in a cell with several other people, the report said.

The Prosecutor-General's office said Khodorkovsky was charged with fraud, forgery, embezzlement and personal and corporate tax evasion among other offences.

Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, chairman of the holding company that is Yukos' core shareholder, who was arrested in July, together caused damages of US$1 billion and harmed the Russian state, the prosecutor's office said.

A statement from Yukos called the charges "absurd" and said the company "does not doubt for a moment that the entire investigation is politically motivated."

Khodorkovsky, who has funded two liberal opposition parties, has had his wealth estimated by Forbes magazine at US$8 billion, and other "oligarchs" are greatly resented by large numbers of Russians who did not benefit from the privatization of state property.

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