Russian tycoon jailed on fraud charges

Arrest concerns U.S.

political motives alleged

October 27, 2003|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Russia's richest man, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, spent his first night in jail Saturday sharing a small cell in a chaotic and overcrowded detention center with five other men, as officials warned that the billionaire would not get special treatment.

Khodorkovsky's arrest, which is expected to trigger shocks in Moscow's markets today, has concerned U.S. officials. The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, warned yesterday that the arrest could alarm foreign investors.

Khodorkovsky, 40, head of the Russian oil giant Yukos, was arrested by FSB security police as his plane was being refueled in Siberia. He was flown back to Moscow and charged with tax evasion and defrauding the state of $1 billion - accusations that many see as political punishment for supporting the Kremlin's political opponents.

"I think that following these events, foreign companies operating on the Russian market and prospective investors are going to have new doubts," Vershbow told Interfax news agency. "Of course, we cannot comment on the legal aspects of this case, but recent events have provoked questions about whether or not Russian legislation is being applied selectively."

Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces, one of the political parties that Khodorkovsky finances, said yesterday that the arrest sent a message implying that it is dangerous to hold independent views in Russia.

"This is an act of intimidation to show everyone, from the supermarket owner to the man running a kiosk, that having independent views in Russia is dangerous in political and social life," Nemtsov told Echo of Moscow radio.

Thanks to high oil prices, President Vladimir V. Putin has stabilized the Russian economy, but he has tolerated little dissent. Independent television stations have been closed down, and two of the so-called oligarchs who aired views opposed to the Kremlin line went into exile to escape similar charges.

A Moscow court ruled Saturday that Khodorkovsky should be jailed after he failed to answer a prosecution summons for questioning Friday.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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