Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Tempers run high in Khodorkovsky trial

A day of dry, technical detail in court was enlivened when Mikhail Khodorkovsky embarked on a slanging match with prosecutor Valery Lakhtin.

Minister of Trade Viktor Khristenko was in the witness box at Moscow Khamovnichesky court when the row broke out.

In a tense, overcrowded courtroom the normally composed Khodorkovsky briefly lost his cool.

“Lakhtin is lying,” he shouted at the lanky state official.

It was a frequent accusation, but Lakhtin countered: “Prosecutors don’t lie.”

He did, however, accuse co-accused Platon Lebedev of misleading the court and the mass media over Monday’s testimony from Sberbank chief German Gref.

“They presented what Gref said yesterday inadequately,” he fumed towards the end of Khristenko’s time in the witness box.

The judge, tired, careworn and looking sad at times, wasn’t above rebuking the prosecutor. He repeatedly told Lakhtin to restate his questions and chided him for quoting extensively from a series of documents. At one point he sharply interrupted: “Did you hear me? I said I dismissed the question!”

Taking the stand Khristenko, like former Economic Development minister Gref before him, said that he knew nothing of the alleged theft.

“The actual theft of crude oil from pipelines is a problem that exists and will continue to exist. However, I am not aware of the theft of 350 million tons,” said Khristenko.

While answering Khodorkovsky’s questions, Khristenko said that Yukos was renting out some of their pipelines to Transneft. Yukos according to him was their biggest client. And if the crude oil had gone missing after the pipes had been rented, it fault for it would lie with Transneft, and not Yukos.

Khristenko also added that he had never heard of any Yukos subsidaries complaining about either oil gone missing, or oil not reaching its destination.

"We are satisfied with the answers we heard from Khristenko on the matter of oil theft,” said defence lawyer Konstantin Rivkin. “It destroys the charges against them to the core.”

And he claimed the “ugly” exchanges during the cross examination demonstrated the weakness of the case against Khodorkovsky and his colleague Platon Lebedev.

“The prosecution behaved quite disgracefully, demonstrating their helplessness,” he told journalists after the day’s hearing.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are already serving jail terms for tax offences relating to their time at Yukos. Many believe the court cases against them to be politically motivated and intended to bring about the collapse of the one-time oil giant.

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