The two Russian billionaires are to remain in jail for the duration of their trial, which started today.

Former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky was denied bail today as he stood trial in a case that toppled Russia’s richest man from the heights of power and drove the nation’s leading oil group to the brink of bankruptcy.

Mr Khodorkovsky is standing trial with a top associate, Platon Lebedev, whose arrest last July heralded the start of the so-called Yukos affair, widely seen here as a political witchhunt.

The judge refused to release both Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev on bail for the duration of the hearings. “This was not a big surprise for us,” Yury Shmidt, one of Mr Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, told reporters.

The first day of their joint trial, which is expected to last several months, lasted for more than nine hours at Moscow’s Meshchansky court amid tight security.

The next court date has been set for June 23, Shmidt said.