updated 1/17/2005 1:10:49 PM ET 2005-01-17T18:10:49

Citing fears of intimidation, lawyers representing the business partner of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky filed a motion Monday waiving the right to call defense witnesses as their client's fraud and tax evasion trial drags on.

Meanwhile, a Western lawyer for Khodorkovsky's battered company accused Western nations of "economic opportunism" by turning a blind eye to the legal onslaught against Yukos and its owners, which observers call a Kremlin-driven power grab in Russia's crucial oil sector.

Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev's defense team claim that prosecutors are putting pressure on possible witnesses, and have demanded a list of those the defense planned to summon. Last week, Khodorkovsky accused prosecutors of confiscating documents in order to impede lawyers' work.

"Yukos managers and people related to the company have experienced harassment. Prosecutors are conducting interrogations and searches. The offices of company lawyers have been searched in violation of the law," Lebedev's lawyer Vladimir Krasnov said during hearings Monday at Moscow's Meshchansky district court, the Interfax news agency reported.

Prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin called the allegations false, and said prosecutors had "never interfered in the collection of evidence by the defense," Interfax reported.

The charges facing Khodorkovsky and Lebedev center around the privatization of a fertilizer-component maker in 1994. But on Friday, the head of Khodorkovsky's defense team announced that a new money laundering investigation had been opened against his clients.

Robert Amsterdam, a Toronto-based lawyer for Yukos, said Monday that prosecutors who have widened the case "fully understand that there is no credibility left to the trial, if there was any to begin with."

Since Khodorkovsky's arrest in October 2003, Yukos _ which he acquired in allegedly rigged auctions in the 1990s and which he turned into one of Russia's most transparent companies _ has been shattered by a series of back tax claims.

While the Kremlin has cast the case as a probe into a rotten business empire, observers say the Kremlin engineered the legal drive to neutralize Khodorkovsky as a potential political threat and transfer his oil assets to government-controlled companies.

Yukos faces some $27 billion in tax claims, and its key production unit was auctioned off last month to cover a part of the bill. The unit, Yuganskneftegaz, was bought by an unknown company that days later was purchased by state-owned oil company Rosneft.

Amsterdam said Russia's oil riches were prompting Western nations to give Russia a free ride over Yukos, and criticized German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for receiving Putin the day after the opaque auction.

"We have seen the willingness to put economic opportunism and the incentives that await those who are prepared to exploit the natural resources of Russia with the connivance of the Kremlin above the ongoing and grotesque violation of due process," Amsterdam told a news conference.

The new money laundering investigation was a means to seek "foreign judicial cooperation," Amsterdam said.

Analysts say the government was forced to use shell companies to acquire Yuganskneftegaz after a bankruptcy court in Houston issued an injunction banning the December auction at Yukos' request. Yukos has promised to sue all participants in the auction.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 3.79%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.69%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.83%
Cash Back Cards 17.80%
Rewards Cards 17.18%
Source: Bankrate.com