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Russian court won't release oil tycoon
( 2003-11-12 09:20) (Agencies)

A court rejected a bid Tuesday by oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to be released from jail before his trial, a ruling his supporters called a sign that authorities in the case are acting on orders from above.

The three-judge Moscow City Court did not explain its decision to deny bail for Russia's richest man, who faces tax evasion and fraud charges.

Khodorkovsky stood silently with his close-cropped head bowed as the chief judge read the lengthy ruling after the two-hour, closed hearing, barely reacting when she announced the appeal was rejected.

"He had no illusions," said his attorney, Anton Drel.

The tycoon's request to attend the hearing was denied, but he participated by video link from behind the bars of a small cage-like cell in the Matrosskaya Tishina jail.

Drel told reporters the ruling likely would be appealed either to the Russian Supreme Court or to the European Court for Human Rights.

Khodorkovsky was arrested Oct. 25 amid a four-month investigation of his oil company, Yukos, that critics said was a Kremlin-backed bid to curb his financial and political clout after his funding of opposition parties. Last week, he quit his job as chief executive of Yukos, Russia's largest oil producer.

He has announced plans to act as chairman of Open Russia, a Khodorkovsky-backed charity.

"It is clear to all that this was a process whose outcome was known in advance," said Irina Yasina, the director of Open Russia.

Outside the hearing, Yasina suggested the decision was made under the influence of the Kremlin, raising the specter of Communist-era show trials. "We all know how this is done from Soviet times," she said.

Drel said the defense argued that Khodorkovsky was cooperating with the investigation and was not a flight risk, having surrendered his passport. Two once-influential tycoons who ran afoul of President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin now live abroad and foreign governments have refused to hand them over to Russian authorities.

Drel also said that more than 40 prominent Russians had signed personal guarantees under which they would be obliged to pay the government if Khodorkovsky failed to cooperate with the investigation after being released. They included the heads of two liberal political parties that Khodorkovsky has funded as well as other lawmakers and human rights activists, he said.

The video link put Khodorkovsky's image onto the screen of a television that was the most modern-looking item in the run-down courtroom, giving reporters a glimpse of him for the first time since his jailing.

Khodorkovsky, 40, is one of a handful of so-called oligarchs who made fast fortunes in a wave of highly controversial state selloffs in the 1990s.

Putin has faced pressure from critics at home and abroad over his jailing. Putin has repeatedly insisted it is not politically motivated and is part of a legitimate effort by law enforcement authorities to tackle the economic crime and corruption that have plagued post-Soviet Russia.

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