The exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky said on Wednesday that Russian authorities were about to charge him in relation to a 1998 murder because he and his civil society group had became a nuisance to the Kremlin.
Once Russia’s richest man, the former Yukos oil chief spent 10 years in jail on two sets of what were widely seen as politically motivated fraud charges, before President Vladimir Putin ordered his release on compassionate grounds two years ago.
Appearing in London to discuss the new case against him, Mr Khodorkovsky said “revolution” was now “inevitable” in Russia. The country, he said, had been left “at the mercy of unlawful and repressive legislation passed by an illegitimate parliament and executed by a judiciary under the thumb of the regime”.
Mr Khodorkovsky told reporters he had been informed this week that “on December 11 charges will be filed against me in the Petukhov case”.
Vladimir Petukhov, mayor of Nefteyugansk, home to the biggest Yukos production unit, was in conflict with the oil company over tax payments and was shot dead on Mr Khodorkovsky’s 35th birthday in June 1998. The tycoon has denied any connection and said the crime had other motives.
If the charges are brought, the case against the former Yukos chief — this time for involvement in murder — will open a new chapter in the complex relations between the ex-tycoon and the Kremlin.
Dmitry Gololobov, a visiting professor at the University of Westminster and one-time Yukos chief general counsel, said he suspected the case had been brought because Mr Khodorkovsky “breached his pact with Putin that he made before he was released”.
“Probably there were terms regulating his political activity,” Mr Gololobov said. “Of course this is being done under clear pressure of the Kremlin, it is not something done voluntarily by [investigators].”
Mr Khodorkovsky suggested one motive for the new case was to pressure other former Yukos shareholders, who have been pursuing Russian state assets abroad in an attempt to collect a record $50bn damages awarded to them in an arbitration case.
The ex-tycoon’s Open Russia foundation also published a report on its website last week by Spanish prosecutors of alleged links between the Russian mafia in Spain and senior officials in Moscow.
The former oligarch said other activities of Open Russia, which he relaunched after his release to promote democracy and civil society, “are a source of irritation”.
“There have already been police raids and some Open Russia staff have been arrested. Moreover, Putin has publicly expressed his awareness of [this] matter,” Mr Khodorkovsky said.
Mr Gololobov said charges of being linked to a murder were probably designed to cause “maximum discomfort” for Mr Khodorkovsky. He said they could be more damaging to the ex-oligarch’s reputation at home as they would be less easily shrugged off by ordinary Russians than fraud charges.
Some Russian analysts speculated the move against Mr Khodorkovsky could be a warning to the country’s political opposition ahead of parliamentary elections next year.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which issued the summons to Mr Khodorkovsky to appear in Moscow in connection with the case, declined to comment. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Mr Putin, also declined to comment, but said the president “knew nothing” when he released Mr Khodorkovsky in 2013 of the former tycoon’s alleged link to the Petukhov killing.
But when asked about Mr Khodorkovsky in 2010, Mr Putin said pointedly that a former Yukos security chief, Alexei Pichugin, who was found guilty at a closed trial in 2006 of organising the murder, had “blood on his hands”.
Mr Khodorkovsky said on Wednesday that Yukos had only been “falsely implicated” in the Petukhov case in 2003, after he criticised high-level corruption during a televised meeting with Mr Putin at the Kremlin.
“The murder was solved [in 1998] and the presumed perpetrators were arrested. For some reason, they were then freed and were subsequently killed,” he added.
The former Yukos chief said he would not appear before investigators in Moscow because he had no intention of participating in a “politically motivated show”. He declined to comment on whether he would seek political asylum in the UK, where he now spends much of his time after initially living in Switzerland after his release.
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