Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose appeal against conviction for fraud was thrown out last month, has been moved to another prison in an undisclosed location to start his 8-year jail sentence.
Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, who went to a Moscow remand prison to see him, were told that the billionaire and his business associate, Platon Lebedev, who was sentenced with him, had been transferred to another prison to serve their sentence.
“We were not given a meeting: we were simply told that they had been sent away,” lawyer Yevgeny Baru told Reuters on Monday.
“We don’t know where they have been sent.”
The 42-year-old magnate, who built up the YUKOS oil giant, was convicted and sentenced in May after a campaign that many observers said was engineered by the Kremlin to neutralize him as a political rival.
Khodorkovsky’s battle with the authorities, marked by barbed attacks on the leadership of President Vladimir Putin from the courtroom and jail cell, has dominated Russian politics since his arrest at gunpoint in October 2003.
After his appeal failed in September, it had been expected that he would be moved from Moscow remand prison to a prison camp, possibly in Siberia, to serve his sentence.
Vladimir Semenyuk, deputy director of the Federal Prison Service, said Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had been transferred to serve their sentences. But he said it would be unethical to divulge now where he had been moved to, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Genrikh Padva, another defense lawyer, said Khodorkovsky had probably been sent to a labor camp or a midway holding center.
Lawyers told Reuters they had contacted Khodorkovsky on Friday but when they went to the prison on Monday they were told by prison authorities that they had been transferred.
“We were told nothing about their whereabouts,” Baru said. “The head of the prison said that the relatives will be informed by post so it won’t be tomorrow.”
Supporters portray Khodorkovsky as a dissident whose YUKOS oil major was broken up on the orders of the Kremlin.
Top Kremlin officials deny those accusations, saying a court convicted Khodorkovsky of breaking the law and that he must serve his sentence.