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Khodorkovsky faces fresh charges

Mikhail Khodorkovsky in prison in an undated photo released in 2005
Khodorkovsky went from Russia's richest man to being a lowly convict

A Moscow judge has ordered ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to be brought from his Siberian jail to Moscow, to face trial on new charges next month.

The judge also ordered the transfer of Platon Lebedev, Khodorkovsky's former business partner, from his Siberian prison to the capital.

Once Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky was jailed for nine years in 2005 for tax evasion and other offences.

The former tycoon faces new theft and embezzlement charges.

Correspondents say the Russian authorities apparently want to keep Khodorkovsky behind bars well beyond the end of his first sentence.

BBC Russian affairs analyst Stephen Eke says the case no longer generates much public interest in Russia.

Supporters of the ex-boss of Russia's disbanded oil firm Yukos say the original charges were politically motivated because Khodorkovsky had funded Russian opposition groups.

'Ridiculous allegations'

"A judge of the Khamovnichesky [Moscow] district court handed down a ruling for the transfer under guard from places of detention to Moscow in respect of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev," the press secretary of Moscow City Court, Anna Usacheva, told Interfax news agency.

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY
1963 - Born in Moscow, son of chemical engineers
1980s - Sets up computer and software business with fellow students
1987 - Founds Menatep bank
1994 - Buys fertiliser company Apatit at auction
1995 - Buys oil company Yukos for $300m, with Menatep assuming $2bn in debt
October 2003 - Arrested for embezzlement, tax evasion and fraud
June 2004 - Court case begins
May 2005 - Found guilty on six of seven charges and sentenced to nine years

"Preliminary hearings in the new trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have been set for March 3," she said.

Khodorkovsky has been serving his sentence in Krasnokamensk, in the east Siberian region of Chita, close to the Chinese border, about 4,700km (3,000 miles) east of Moscow.

He remains a strong critic of the Kremlin, last year accusing Russian ex-President Vladimir Putin of having used the law to target political enemies, especially businessmen like himself.

Responding to the announcement of a new trial, his lawyers said: "The bureaucrats of the security forces have wasted many years, huge sums of state money and their own reputation by fabricating these ridiculous allegations."

Lebedev was also convicted of tax evasion at the same trial in 2005 and jailed for nine years.

Yukos, once Russia's biggest oil company, was declared bankrupt in 2006 and ceased to exist as a legal entity in November 2007.

The company had been steadily dismantled after being accused of massive fraud and tax evasion by the Russian authorities.

Yukos maintained it was the victim of a concerted political campaign by a government which wanted to discredit its executives and gain control of vital energy assets.

Russian officials deny the allegation.



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Profile: Khodorkovsky's prison
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Yukos ex-chief jailed for 9 years
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