Ex-Yukos shareholder Nevzlin's lawyer says his prosecution politically motivated

The defense team of Leonid Nevzlin, a former major shareholder in Yukos, insists that the property embezzlement charges brought against him are groundless.

Nevzlin is internationally wanted, and the Russian investigation believes he is currently staying in Israel.

Nevzlin's lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov said at Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky Court, which started hearings on a criminal case against Nevzlin in absentia on Friday, that his client considers his "criminal prosecution unwarranted and politically motivated."

"This judicial process is part of a campaign against him and other major Yukos shareholders," Kharitonov said.

The lawyer declared that the hearings in absentia are unlawful, as Nevzlin is not hiding from law enforcement agencies prosecuting him. "He left Russia legally, that is, he is not hiding from a court, and he did not return because of obvious political motives behind the charges," he said.

Israel, where Nevzlin is staying, earlier refused to extradite him to Russia, he said.

Kharitonov insisted that the statute of limitations on the count attributed to Nevzlin has expired, and his prosecution could be explained by the upcoming hearings by international courts of a lawsuit filed by former Yukos shareholders claiming $100 billion from the Russian Federation in compensation.

"The way the circumstances of the crime are described in the indictment does not constitute embezzlement. The indictment is unspecific and incomprehensible, and its framework has been artificially broadened. The criminal case does not contain proofs of Nevzlin's involvement in the deeds described in it," he said.

"The defense declares Nevzlin's absolute innocence," Kharitonov said.

The Russian Investigative Committee announced that it completed an investigation into this case on July 4.

"The investigators have gathered enough evidence, which is why the criminal case has been sent to a court for trial in the defendant's absence since Nevzlin is on the international wanted list and is hiding from the investigation and justice abroad," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Interfax.

According to the inquiry, in 1998 Nevzlin conspired and misappropriated a 38 percent stake in Tomskneft, Achinsky Oil Refinery and other companies which were entered by the Russian Federation in the authorized capital of the Eastern Oil Company to the tune of over 3 billion rubles.

"Yukos' main shareholders Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and a Yukos EP manager, Ramil Burganov, were convicted of this count earlier," Markin said.

The criminal case was opened under Russian Criminal Code Article 160, Part 4 (misappropriation).

Before June 2002, Nevzlin was a member of the Yukos board and held various executive positions in the oil company's units and at the Menatep bank. Since June 2003, Nevzlin has resided in Israel, of which he became a citizen the same year.

In January 2004, Russia put Nevzlin on the international wanted list and charged him in absentia with embezzling over 3 billion rubles and 26.7 million rubles in individual tax evasion in 1999-2000.

The Russian Prosecutor General's Office also accuses Nevzlin of ordering hits on former Rosprom manager Sergei Kolesov, Moscow City Hall's former public relations chief Olga Kostina and a manager from the Austrian oil company East Petroleum HandelsGes m.b.H., Yevgeny Rybin.

According to the inquiry, between 1998 and 2002 Nevzlin was behind the murders of Fenix director Valentina Korneyeva, head of the Nefteyugansk town administration Vladimir Petukhov (whose bodyguard Vyacheslav Kokoshkin was injured), and Rybin's driver Nikolai Fedotov. Former Yukos security chief Alexei Pichugin got a life sentence earlier for similar crimes.

In 2008, Moscow City Court sentenced Nevzlin in absentia to life for organizing murders and attempted murders. The ruling was later upheld by the Russian Supreme Court.

It emerged on May 29, 2012 that Russia and Israel agreed on the extradition of Israelis suspected of committing crimes in Russia, and Nevzlin was mentioned among other names on the Russian Prosecutor General's Office extradition list.

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