MOSCOW, March 3 (RIA Novosti) - Preliminary hearings on new charges against Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his former business partner have started in Moscow. (VIDEO)
Two Russian oil companies, Tomskneft and Samaraneftegaz, have filed a new 170 billion ruble ($4.7 billion) suit against Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.
Khodorkovsky shouted "It's a disgrace!" after being brought to Moscow's Khamovniki District Court, while his supporters threw a few carnations to him over a metal gate. The hearings are being held behind closed doors.
About 300 policemen are on duty outside the court building and the street has been closed to pedestrians, although no restrictions have been imposed on motor traffic.
Police later detained six people who attempted to organize two unauthorized pickets in support of Khodorkovsky - one just outside the court building and the other near the Borodinsky Bridge across the Moskva River in the city center.
In accordance with the law, pickets may not be staged within 200 meters of court buildings.
A city police spokesman said all unsanctioned events would be dispersed.
Vladimir Klyuvgant, a Khodorkovsky defense counsel, said the new trial could last six months or more.
Lebedev's lawyer, Yelena Liptser, said there were more than 200 witnesses in the new case, compared with about 100 in the previous trial, which had lasted for more than a year.
Khodorkovsky, 45, and Platon Lebedev, 42, are already serving eight-year sentences for tax evasion and theft charges. Many critics say the charges were politically motivated.
The new charges against them include the embezzlement of more than 890 billion rubles ($25 billion at the current rate of exchange) and laundering of 487.4 billion rubles and $7.5 billion.
They now face total claims of about $50 billion, which their lawyers have described as "ridiculous."
Once Russia's largest oil producer, Yukos collapsed after charges of tax evasion led to the company being broken up and sold off to meet debts. The bulk of the company's assets were bought up by state-run oil company Rosneft and it was declared bankrupt in 2006.