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Yukos ex-security chief sentenced to life imprisonment - 2

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The Moscow City Court sentenced a former Yukos security chief to life imprisonment in a new trial Monday, for organizing murders and attempted murders.
(Adds Pichugin defense team's reaction, quote in paras 11-12)

MOSCOW, August 6 (RIA Novosti) - The Moscow City Court sentenced a former Yukos security chief to life imprisonment in a new trial Monday, for organizing murders and attempted murders.

Alexei Pichugin was earlier sentenced to 24 years in prison for a series of killings believed to have been committed on the orders of his bosses at the now bankrupt oil company, but had appealed his sentence, hoping for acquittal.

"The court concluded that Pichugin poses a serious threat to society and sentences him to life in prison," the judge said, announcing the verdict.

"The defendant's guilt has been proven by the investigation and witness accounts," the verdict said.

In August 2006, the Moscow City Court sentenced Pichugin to 24 years in prison for the attempted murder of businessman Andrei Rybin, and the murders of entrepreneur Valentina Korneyeva and the mayor of the Siberian oil town of Neftyugansk, Yury Petukhov.

At the time, Pichugin was already serving a 20-year sentence for two killings and an attempted murder.

Both the Prosecutor General's Office and the defense had appealed the court's verdict. The prosecution requested a life sentence, and the defense team lodged an appeal, calling the sentence illegal and unfounded. In February 2007, Russia's Supreme Court revoked the 24-year sentence against Pichugin and ordered a new trial.

Pichugin denies the charges against him, and his lawyers earlier said their client was put in prison "for one purpose only - to put pressure on Yukos chiefs."

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder of what was once Russia's largest oil producer, and his business partner, Platon Lebedev are serving eight-year prison terms on fraud and tax evasion charges. Leonid Nevzlin, also a business partner of Khodorkovsky and a principal Yukos shareholder, fled the investigation and is now living in Israel.

The Prosecutor General's Office said Monday that Pichugin's conviction was a first step to bringing Nevzlin to justice, and that hearings on his case would take place in absentia.

Pichugin's defense team responded to the Monday verdict with an announcement to appeal the sentence with Russia's Supreme Court.

"The prosecutors simply want to convince everybody that Yukos is nothing but a gang of murderers," defense lawyer Georgy Kaganer said. "They are trying to get to Nevzlin through Pichugin."

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