Platon Lebedev
Alexander Zemlianichenko  /  AP Photo
Platon Lebedev, left, a business associate of Yukos' ex-CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, speaks from a defendant's cage with his lawyer Yevgeny Baru at a courtroom in Moscow Monday.
By
updated 7/13/2004 10:41:48 AM ET 2004-07-13T14:41:48

A court on Tuesday rejected the latest plea to free Platon Lebedev, former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky's co-defendant in a fraud trial that has raised doubts about Russia's commitment to economic reform and due process.

Lodging the motion Monday, defense lawyers claimed procedure was violated when Lebedev's detention was prolonged this spring by a court decision made without him or his attorneys present. The Meshchansky district court rejected the appeal.

Lebedev's defense team says he is suffering from a liver ailment, and he has appeared wan and weak in numerous court appearances since his arrest in July 2003. On Monday, the court accepted the statement of a Dr. John O'Grady of the Institute of Liver Studies at King's College Hospital in London, who suggested Lebedev might be suffering from cirrhosis or cancer and not the chronic persistent hepatitis Russian doctors have diagnosed.

The court adjourned the trial until Wednesday afternoon to give Lebedev's lawyers time for a confidential meeting with their client, who wanted to familiarize himself with evidence in the case, defense attorney Yelena Lipster said outside the courthouse. Lipster said the defense had requested an adjournment until Thursday.

Both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The men are being tried in connection with their activities as core shareholders in Menatep, the holding company that is Yukos' principal shareholder.

Yukos is meanwhile fighting its own battles. Bailiffs last week began work to freeze accounts in Yukos' daughter production companies in Siberia after the oil giant missed the deadline to pay a $3.4 billion tax bill for 2000.

The Tax Service has made a further claim for $3.3 billion for 2001, and Russia's to prosecutor has suggested further claims for 2002 and 2003 are also likely.

As the trial got under way Monday, Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed Cabinet source as saying the government was considering a Yukos proposal to pay $8 billion over a three-year period to cover the unpaid tax bill. Meanwhile, Khodorkovsky's lawyer Anton Drel confirmed that the oil magnate's offer to turn over his stake to settle the tax claim still stands.

The trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev is just one component of a complex web of legal cases against Yukos and its owners, which the government insists is part of as a drive against corruption.

Many observers, however, say the legal campaign has more to do with the Kremlin's displeasure over Khodorkovsky's opposition political activities in the run up to last year's parliamentary elections and is a warning to Russia's other powerful businessmen not to meddle in politics.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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