updated 7/15/2004 12:23:07 PM ET 2004-07-15T16:23:07

The jailed former head of the Yukos oil giant, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, pleaded innocent Thursday to fraud and tax evasion charges.

Khodorkovsky entered his plea after prosecutors read the lengthy case against him and his co-defendant, Platon Lebedev. Khodorkovsky initially had asked if he could have another day before making his formal response to the charges.

Khodorkovsky has been jailed on the charges since October and Yukos is under increasing pressure over a $3.4 billion back taxes bill that the company says could force it into bankruptcy.

The state says the legal actions against Yukos and Khodorkovsky are part of an anti-corruption drive, but critics say they are Kremlin-led retaliation for the tycoon's political aspirations and growing clout.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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