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Ruling against new Khodorkovsky, Lebedev probe upheld-1

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MOSCOW, September 13 (RIA Novosti) - The Moscow City Court presidium upheld a ruling that a new investigation against the ex-Yukos head and his business partner in eastern Siberia was unlawful.

The court thereby rejected a motion by the Prosecutor General's Office against the decision by Moscow's Basmanny court that banned the investigation in Chita into new charges against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ex-CEO of the bankrupt oil company, and his business partner Platon Lebedev.

The charges include stealing government shares, expropriating oil, and laundering $25 billion earned from oil sales in 1998-2004. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, already serving an eight-year prison term, have denied the allegations.

The businessmen's lawyers repeatedly called for transferring their clients from Chita to Moscow for the probe to continue, but they complained that prosecutors had done everything possible to prevent this.

"Certainly, they must be transferred to Moscow, but prosecutors are defying the court decision saying they would not comply, but appeal the ruling," said Yelena Liptser, Lebedev's lawyer.

Yury Shmidt, who represents Khodorkovsky, said he had filed a complaint urging a deputy prosecutor general and an investigator to be probed over failing to comply with the courts' ruling.

In early September, the Supreme Court decided to launch review proceedings on the legality of the probe and instructed the Moscow City Court's presidium to consider the Prosecutor General's Office review representation anew.

Lebedev, former head of Menatep Group, and Khodorkovsky were found guilty of tax evasion and large-scale fraud by a Moscow court in May 2005 and sentenced to nine years in prison. Later the Moscow City Court reduced their terms to eight years.

Khodorkovsky, who acquired oil assets through controversial privatization deals in the early 1990s, has insisted that his prosecution was orchestrated by the authorities to silence his criticism of President Vladimir Putin, and as part of a campaign to bring oil and gas assets under the Kremlin's control.

Once the largest oil producer in Russia, the Yukos empire collapsed after claims of tax evasion, which led to the company being broken up and sold off to meet debts, with the bulk of its assets being bought by government-controlled oil company Rosneft.

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