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Mikhail Khodorkovsky may have thought himself a free man at last when Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned him of financial crimes two years ago. Now, though, the former Russian oil magnate is the object of a global manhunt for his suspected involvement in the 1998 murder of the mayor of a Siberian city.
The Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s leading panel on criminal inquiry, announced Wednesday that Khodorkovsky had been “arrested in absentia,” meaning that it issued a warrant for his arrest. He is accused of orchestrating the killing of Vladimir Petukhov, the mayor of Nefteyugansk in central Russia, and a second man, businessman Yevgeny Rybkin.
At the time, Petukhov was engaged in an unspecified dispute with the management and shareholders of the now-defunct Russian oil giant Yukos, of which Khodorkovsky was the chairman.
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“After considering the petition of the Russian Investigative Committee’s department on investigating particularly important cases, the court has chosen detention as the measure of restraint against Mikhail Khodorkovsky” committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said. “Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been put on an international wanted list.”
The committee already had charged Khodorkovsky earlier this month, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that it called for an international manhunt.
Four men already have been convicted of carrying out the murders, but Khodorkovsky has denied any involvement. He now lives in Switzerland and said he would submit to questioning about the case only from Swiss authorities.
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“If the country where I live now finds it necessary for me to answer these questions, I will do that,” he said, but insisted that he wouldn’t travel to Russia for questioning there. “I can say one thing: I won’t take part in this show.”
Markin issued a statement saying Moscow will take “all the legal means” at its disposal to bring Khodorkovsky to ground “no matter where the person accused of grave crimes is hiding: in Russia, abroad, or even in the Antarctic.”
Khodorkovsky, however, has no intention to change his living habits despite being the target of a global manhunt, according to his spokeswoman, Kulle Pispanen. “He does not care at all,” she said. “These actions will not limit his movements in any way.”
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Previously Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on suspicion of committing financial crimes, and in 2005 he was convicted of tax evasion sentenced to nine years in prison. Four years later he was charged with tax evasion and money laundering, convicted and sentenced to an additional 14 years in prison, though that sentence was later reduced to 11 years.
In December 2013, Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky in what is seen as a public goodwill gesture two months before the opening of the Winter Olympics, which took place in Sochi, Russia.
Many who are leery of Putin say the Russian president had singled out Khodorkovsky for prosecution not because of any suspected financial crimes but because of his prominence in owning the country’s largest oil company and because he appeared to be challenging the president politically. After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, Yukos’ was broken up and sold to state-owned energy companies.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com