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Russia prosecutors say seized more YUKOS papers
( 2003-11-28 10:12) (Agencies)

Russian prosecutors said on Thursday they carried out new searches and seized papers at YUKOS, keeping up relentless pressure on the oil company whose former chief executive is in jail.

A statement from the prosecutor general's office said the searches were carried out Wednesday. The statement came on the eve of a major shareholders' meeting in which YUKOS, which is merging with smaller rival Sibneft, will elect new company officers.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former chief executive of YUKOS, talks to journalists after arriving in Moscow in this July 16, 2003 file photo. Khodorkovsky is now in jail.   [Reuters]
YUKOS's former head Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested last month on charges of tax evasion and fraud, spreading alarm among investors who feared it was the start of a concerted assault by the authorities on big business.

Russian prosecutors said Wednesday there was no chance for Khodorkovsky to settle his case out of court and the billionaire looked almost certain to stand trial.

Thursday, prosecutors said he faced charges on 11 counts, including massive fraud and tax evasion. The latest addition to the list was the theft of $2.8 million in proceeds from fertilizer sales. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and confiscation of property.

Prosecutor also said that during the search, they seized documents from the office of Yukos-Moscow, a parent company of YUKOS, which is headed by Steven Theede, a U.S. citizen.

"Yukos-Moscow employees, including the company's head Steven Theede, were not questioned," the statement said.

Theede, the number three executive in YUKOS, joined the company shortly after Khodorkovsky's arrest.

Shares of YUKOS closed 0.91 percent down on the Moscow RTS exchange at $12 per share, underperforming the broader market as traders feared more negative news might emerge ahead of Friday's meeting.


Friday, key shareholders of YUKOS and Sibneft are due to hold their first joint meeting to elect a new board of directors and the new chairman of the world's fourth largest private oil firm.

Analysts believe Khodorkovsky's arrest was orchestrated by the Kremlin to rein in his political activities.

Prosecutors say Khodorkovsky can stand trial as soon as his lawyers complete studying a 40,000 page document on his case.

Prosecutors and legal experts have said the tycoon's defense lawyers could take months to study the 200 volumes. Lawyers for Khodorkovsky's associate Platon Lebedev, jailed in July, have been studying the charges against him since August.

The prosecutor's statement also said the case of another key YUKOS shareholder, Vasily Shakhnovsky, had been filed with a Moscow court and the trial was expected to go ahead soon. Shakhnovsky is charged with tax evasion.

"Shakhnovsky is facing tax evasion and counterfeit document charges. His lawyers have completed studying charges brought against him, so the trial could happen sooner than for the others... But the date will depend only on the court decision," the prosecutor general's office told Reuters.

Prosecutors say Shakhnovsky, who has paid $1.8 million in back taxes, could face a jail sentence of up to five years.

YUKOS's spokesman Alexander Shadrin said the events could not derail the shareholders' meeting Friday.

"Shareholders will meet Friday to give the firm a new name, YukosSibneft, elect its new board, vote a new charter and approve YUKOS's $2 billion interim dividend," he said.

Analysts expect Sibneft's former president Eugene Shvidler to become the chairman and YUKOS's current chief executive Simon Kukes, a Russian-born American, to take the same role in the merged company.

Last month, prosecutors froze a 42 percent stake in YUKOS belonging to Khodorkovsky and his allies, but they still retain voting and dividend rights.

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