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Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 18:21 UK

Yukos figure 'guilty of murders'

Leonid Nevzlin, 2004
Leonid Nevzlin fled to Israel in 2003

A former top figure in the Russian oil company Yukos has been given a life sentence by a Russian court for masterminding several murders.

Leonid Nevzlin was tried in absentia as he now lives in Israel.

Nevzlin said the "show trial" was mounted as part of the Kremlin's campaign against Yukos.

The company has been broken up and sold off by Russian authorities. Founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky is serving eight years for tax evasion and fraud.

Extradition request

Nevzlin was one of the major shareholders in Yukos, and one of Khodorkovsky's closest advisers.

He was found guilty on Friday of several counts of conspiracy to murder.

They included the killing of a local mayor where the oil firm's biggest production unit was based.

"The court has ascertained that Nevzlin organised a whole host of extremely serious crimes," Judge Valery Novikov said.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Former Yukos boss Khodorkovsky is currently in a Siberian prison

Nevzlin fled to Israel in 2003. Russia has pressed for his extradition.

"The decision of the court was written in advance by the Kremlin and there is no surprise in this decision," Nevzlin said in a statement read out by his spokesman.

"This is a show trial managed under the supervision of the Kremlin and controlled by [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin and his gang."

He said he would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Rift with Kremlin

The court heard that Nevzlin had worked with Yukos' former head of security, Alexei Pichugin, to kill people who stood in the company's way, including the owner of a building that Yukos coveted, and a mayor who tried to impose local taxes.

Pichugin was sentenced to 24 years in prison in 2006 for carrying out murders.

Yukos became one of Russia's biggest companies after buying state assets cheaply following the fall of the Soviet Union.

But Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, fell out with Mr Putin, who was then president, and became one of his most prominent critics.


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