Russia’s richest man clutched a plastic bag with a bottle of water Friday as he was brought under heavy guard from jail to a preliminary hearing on fraud and tax evasion charges — only to have the session postponed until June 8.
Billionaire oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, wearing a greenish-blue fleece and handcuffed by his right wrist to a camouflaged guard, had his hearing adjourned after tax inspectors asked to join in the long-awaited trial, which is widely seen as a Kremlin warning to magnates who meddle in politics.
Khodorkovsky’s parents, Boris and Maria Khodorkovsky, waited in the crowded hallway of Moscow’s Meshchansky Court, hoping to catch a glimpse of their 40-year-old son who has been jailed since his Oct. 25 arrest.
After a few hours of procedural motions, Judge Irina Kolesnikova postponed the hearing until June 8, and Khodorkovsky was brought back to his cell in Matrosskaya Tishina jail.
“He is not guilty. I know my son,” said Maria Khodorkovsky, who climbed onto a bench to try to get a clearer view. “I know how I raised him.”
The 10-month investigation against Yukos — the company Khodorkovsky transformed into one of Russia’s largest oil producers — and its shareholders is seen by many as retaliation for Khodorkovsky’s political aspirations.
Ahead of December’s parliamentary elections, Khodorkovsky openly backed several parties that opposed President Vladimir Putin. The businessman also became increasingly assertive on policy issues and publicly lectured the Kremlin for its weak stance on corruption.
Some observers had speculated that Khodorkovsky’s wealth, estimated at $15.2 billion, and his control of a key business in Russia’s strategically important oil industry might propel him to the presidency.
“The authorities, as personified by Putin and his group, have two aims: to civilize society but also a slightly contradictory goal, to control it,” said Igor Bunin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Technology. “With the help of the Yukos case … authorities have eliminated the political and economic autonomy of Yukos, which in their opinion, presented a potential threat.”
On Wednesday, Moscow’s Arbitration Court approved the Tax Ministry’s back taxes claim of $3.4 billion against Yukos for 2000, which the company said might drive it to bankruptcy by year’s end. The Tax Ministry is also auditing Yukos’ tax records from 2001.