Mr Khodorkovsky last week made what some political analysts perceived as a gesture to calm the escalating conflict around him and his partners when he agreed to step down as chief executive of Yukos, the country’s largest oil group, severing his direct management ties to the company of which he is the largest shareholder.
He has been held in a Moscow pre-trial detention centre since his arrest at gunpoint in Siberia two weeks ago, after which he was charged with fraud and tax evasion totalling $1bn (€910m, £600m).
His foreign lawyers have threatened to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights as well as to the UN Commission on Human Rights, following alleged violations of due process including raids by prosecutors on his Russian lawyers’ offices.
But investigators yesterday intensified inquiries in the Evenkiisky republic, in the far north, where Yukos has significant interests and where a court last week threw out an attempt to grant immunity to Vasily Shakhnovsky, another Yukos executive and shareholder charged with tax evasion, by giving him a seat in the Federation Council, the upper parliamentary chamber.
Separately, commercial lawyers are believed to be preparing actions to appeal against the authorities’ decision to freeze a 40 per cent block of shares in Yukos linked to Mr Khodorkovsky and his key partners. Menatep, the vehicle through which he held the shares, has denied they still belong to him and is seeking their release.
Yukos last week unveiled a new management team and has pushed ahead with existing projects, playing down the interest Mr Khodorkovsky had shown in a strategic alliance with a key western oil group.
Other shareholders and partners of Mr Khodorkovsky have travelled to Israel, where Leonid Nevzlin, the second largest owner of Yukos shares, last week obtained citizenship.
The events come as Mr Putin yesterday attempted to put a positive light on last Thursday’s EU-Russia summit in Rome, where he was criticised over the handling of the Yukos case and triggered a sharp exchange within the European Union. In a rare public sign of dissatisfaction, the European Commission on Friday distanced itself from Silvio Berlusconi, Italian premier and current EU president, for his strong defence of Mr Putin.
Igor Ivanov, Russian foreign minister, at the weekend rejected any interference by other countries in the Yukos affair, which he called an internal matter.
He downplayed criticism from the White House, saying that it had come instead from others still locked in the Cold War.